When it was time for Gino Sorrento to hand over the reins of the Collingswood pizza shop he'd spent the last 30 years building, he did so to a man he's known for almost as long.
New owner Sal Randazzo, who said he's known Sorrento for about 25 years, has been visiting Collingswood, where his in-laws own property, since the 1970s.
He has high hopes for the business.
"I’ve been in Collingswood for many, many years," Randazzo said. "It’s a very good location; just needs a little bit of sprucing up."
Randazzo said he plans to remodel the entire restaurant, moving around some bathrooms, updating the decor, and eventually pushing into the now-vacant Crosstown Dry Cleaners next door.
He expects the improvements will be completed by the end of February or early March at the latest.
Acknowledging there also will be some recipe changes, Randazzo is banking that his signature pizza dough, which he cuts with Semolina flour, will win over new diners.
"When Gino was there, it was very good," Randazzo said. "[But] people love my crust; I make it a little different."
The pizza business has been good to Randazzo, who's owned shops everywhere from Philadelphia to Ocean City (the 34th and Asbury location is still operated by his niece and nephew) to Washington Township, where his Egg Harbor Road location remains bustling.
He said that Sorrento's will likely take on the Randazzo name as well, and plans to offer trattoria-style dining, al fresco seating, and an expanded menu in keeping with the B.Y.O.B. Collingswood dining scene—"something not too elegant but something really nice," he said.
"I’m going to have some pasta, veal, chicken, shrimp, clams, mussels," Randazzo said.
'Competition makes you better'
Collingswood Zoning and Code Enforcement Officer Mary Ellen Ries also recognizes that Randazzo's success could help strengthen a block of businesses that have taken hold on the south end of Collingswood.
"There’s two other really good restaurants there, Zeppoli and IndeBlue," Ries said. "[The property has a good landlord, nice new lights, [a] garden on the corner, good drive-up business, [and a] parking lot behind it.
"This is the kind of food that people can afford," she said; "this is a place you can go get some pizza, get a good hamburger, hoagie, cheesesteak."
"There’s a doctor’s office next door, a salon; everybody’s happy to see somebody take the corner and spruce it up a little," Randazzo said.
"I’ve been there since December 16 and heard nothing but positives from everybody coming in."
Bringing more Italian cuisine into the red-sauce-saturated borough doesn't intimidate him, either.
"Competition makes you better," Randazzo said. "Washington Township has 35 or 34 pizza shops. You got so much competition today, you’ve got to be good."
One differentiator Randazzo said his businesses have always employed is supporting local sports teams and school fundraisers. Randazzo's in Washington Township sends off just shy of 200 pizzas to the local high school once a year as a goodwill gesture, he said.
"I support a lot of teams, and that’s what the name has been out there," Randazzo said. "If 700 kids eat my pizza, they go home and say, 'Randazzo makes a good pie.'
"Support your local business," he said. "We all need you. Everybody helps everybody."