In 1955 Dominic Pugliese, a new immigrant to the United States, learned the art of New York style pizza from a generous man who owned a bakery named “Vesuvio” in New York City.
In 1957 Dominic and his brother Ettore and their father Rocco journeyed to Toronto and introduced pizza as we know it today — New York Style — to the city in a little place at 3028 Dundas street west (a mere 7 door steps away from where it is now situated).
Shortly thereafter Rocco returned to Italy and in 1961 his son Attilio, came to Canada to help his brothers open Vesuvio at 3010 Dundas (its present location) in 1962. This business and the whole area of the Junction thrived despite the “dry” designation. It is impossible to tell the story of Vesuvio without telling the story of the Junction.
In 1963, their fourth brother Corrado, joined them in their culinary pursuits. Either directly or indirectly, about half of today’s pizza industry in Toronto learned from or were influenced by the Pugliese brothers at Vesuvio. They were the first, finest, and most knowledgeable experts on pizza in Toronto and they set the standard for the rest of the city. At one time in the 1970’s they had up to 8 different locations but discovered that it was impossible to keep the standards high without one of them present.
In 1969 the first battles concerning the “dry” designation in the area were spearheaded by the Pugliese brothers. They understood that the public wanted to eat their Italian food with red wine and their pizza with beer.
Since the “dry” designation had originally been introduced in 1903 by the residents, they were required to vote it out. Under provincial legislation; a “Lifestyle Change” issue must be voted in by a majority of the ballots cast — 60% + 1 vote.
The Pugliese brothers lost the 1969 plebiscite and 2 subsequent referendums. The loss of the third in 1973 sends a discouraged Dominic to return to Italy to open a car dealership. After hearing the results of the fourth vote in 1984, emotions were at such a height that dead silence resounded throughout the pizzeria. Between tears and anger, Ettore began to nail 2 X 4’s and plywood so to barricade the doors to the dining room while the customers still sat inside. Waitresses were crying because they knew they had just lost their jobs. Ettore declared that every meal was on the house, and that no meal would be served again until it could be served with a glass of wine.
Almost immediately the Pugliese brothers acquired the little jewellery store next door, and turned it into a take-out and delivery operation. The dining room and all of its former glory was shrouded in hurt feelings and cobwebs.
In 1996 Piera Pugliese (wife of Ettore), Santa Cuda of The Flamingo Banquet Hall and Maureen Lynett of Lynett Funeral Home made it their personal quest to change the “dry” designation too “wet” in the November 1997 municipal election. With the help of Anne Leonard, they created W.E.T. (Working for Equal Treatment) a collective of businesses and residents who believed that the economic well-being of the Junction was dependent upon abolishing prohibition which had governed the area for 90 years.
After a years worth of back-breaking and mind-numbing campaign, the long anticipated day arrived. November 10, 1997. Election Day. By 11pm the scrutineers began bringing the numbers into W.E.T. Headquarters… as each set was added to the tally the tension mounted. It was 3am and still no decision was declared. At 5am Ettore went to buy the morning paper to discover if the decision was final… the campaign waited ….and waited….two days later….still no decision. It turned out that the vote was so close that the elections office delayed announcing the final count until they were sure. The third day the announcement finally came… they won by 1 vote!!!! That day, most of the Junction was voted “wet” by a decision of 60% + 1.3 votes.
Then “the question” came: “when are you opening???” Finally the doors to the dining room opened again in August 2000, and Ettore’s declaration in 1984 would come to fruition.
After more than 50 years in operation Vesuvio is still run by the Pugliese family: Ettore, Rita, Piera and Paola. Attilio passed away in 1993 and never saw the huge success it has become. Corrado is sorely missed since his sudden passing in 2009, and Dominic returns to Canada every few years to reminisce.
Over the years the Pugliese family has become an institution in Toronto. They have spearheaded an economic revitalization with the new “wet” designation of the Junction. No longer victim of the area’s depression but leaders in its recovery. They have provided employment for many, some of whom have worked for them for over 45 years. They have been a steadfast and dependable contributor to the business community of Toronto. They donate their product and time to many community and charitable events. They have educated people on the finer points of pizza cuisine, and they have managed to feed a few people along the way.