It's a Friday morning in Nesquehoning. Tucked away from busy Route 209, the smell of baking dough rises tantalizingly from the basement of a home on East Columbus Avenue.
That aroma is good news it means that Cerimele's Pizza and Italian Specialties has returned to Nesquehoning.
The business recently opened under the ownership of Tony Cerimele, the nephew of previous owner Michael "Schmick" Cerimele, who retired in August.
While this is the first time Tony has played an ownership role in the family business, he has been making pizza for years.
"From the time I could walk, I was down here helping," he said.
In preparation for the opening, Tony remodeled the entire basement baking and prep area, taking the walls down to the studs and replacing many of the appliances with newer, more energy efficient models. The home is owned by his parents, Fred and Marguerite Cerimele, who have been involved with the family business since it began in 1959.
"There was always a food business in the basement of this home," he noted, adding that before there were pizzas baking in the New Columbus basement, it housed an ice cream house and then a bar room. "I almost took this for granted."
Tony found his passion for pizza reignited on a trip to Old Forge, where his wife Marianne has family. After enjoying the baking skills of Mark and Angelo Genell, Mary Lou Verdetoo, and his mother-in-law Rosemary Perrone, he began developing his own Old Forge-style recipe.
"After experiencing Old Forge, I really love making pizza. I want this to be my life's work," he said. "We'll see where life takes us."
While the recipes at Cerimele's are a bit different than previously offered, Tony has heard lots of positive comments from customers. They offer an original "red" pizza and the traditionally Old Forge-style white double crusted, of course, although customers can also order an open-faced white pizza with classic onions and rosemary.
Other double crust options include a broccoli or spinach pizza. Tony also chose to honor family members with "Marguerite's Broccoli" and "Zeppy's Spinach," both open-faced options. He also offers a shrimp and hot peppers pizza and one with fresh tomatoes while they are in season. The menu also includes sausage rings, Italian hoagies, and stromboli.
"The reaction has been good. People have said that it's very good, but a little different, which it is supposed to be," he said. "Our family has had a long history in the food business. It's been a tradition in the Panther Valley area, and I'm just trying to keep up the tradition.
"A lot of people have said that they are thankful we're open again," he added. "They don't make pizza like this around here."
The Cerimele family first began selling pizza out of the home of Michael and Mayme Cerimele, Tony's grandparents, on East Columbus Avenue in 1959.
"My grandmother made pizzas, and my uncle (Schmick) would sell them," said Tony. He noted that the family pizza business flourished, eventually evolving into a full-scale catering business.
While Tony doesn't plan to reopen the catering branch of Cerimele's, he does hope to expand the family's pizza business.
"Towards the end, it was the pizza that people really remembered," he said.
The business is currently opened on Fridays, as the family business has done for more than 50 years. Employees begin preparing for their lunchtime opening at 3 a.m. and many of the faces behind the counter remain the same, including longtime employees Fran Barno and Gena Mele and Tony's parents. Other family members also continue to help out.
Tony is joined in the business venture by his wife Marianne and daughters Nina, 5, and Adrianna, 3. In keeping with the family tradition, his daughters are already helping in the kitchen and learning the family trade.
"They both love to make pizza with me," he added.
Cerimele's Pizza is open every Friday from 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. or until they are sold out. Customers are encouraged to place their orders throughout the week by calling (570) 669-9800.