Wednesday, June 19, 2024

After 25 years, Virginia Beach family pizzeria up for sale on Craigslist

George Haroon has been selling pizza in Virginia Beach for about 25 years and he’s ready to retire.

Recently, with the help of a friend his restaurant went up for sale on Craigslist.

But like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather: Part III,” his family has a way of pulling him back in.

Haroon, who goes by Gino, owns Mini Italia New York Pizzeria on Newtown Road. Located in a strip mall alongside tenants such as Subway and H&R Block, the restaurant has stromboli, calzones and subs  — as well as everything from antipasto salad to veal parmigiana pasta.

There’s cannoli. And a painted mural of Sicily and New York City, including the Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers.

There’s also Gino’s family.

“My father-in-law, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, my wife, kids and brothers-in-law — they all work here,” Haroon said in a recent interview at the restaurant. “That’s why we’ve been here for so many years. People come and go, but we’re still here.”

A self-described graduate of the streets, Haroon has worked in the food-service industry since the 1980s. He started as a dishwasher in Northern Virginia, working for the uncle of his now-wife in a pizza restaurant at Springfield Mall.

He bought Mini Italia in 1991, when he was visiting an uncle in Virginia Beach. He paid about $38,000.

He stuck it out, working seven days a week and using fresh basil for the Margherita pizza and ingredients like pancetta from Ferraro Foods, a distributor based in New Jersey.

It’s not business, it’s personal

Still, the secret to Mini Italia’s longevity is personal, he said: “People know us.”

That’s a sentiment shared by Haroon’s in-laws, who have worked there for 25 years.

“Everywhere we go, they say, ‘Hey Mr. Pizza Man, how are you?'” said Michele Ganci, Haroon’s father-in-law.

Mini Italia is like home for him and his wife Rita, Ganci added.

For customers, that may be part of the appeal — especially if they grew up knowing Philadelphia cheesesteaks or thin-crust, New York-style pizza.

During a recent weekday lunch rush, as people streamed in, a television was tuned to news of a shooting in Northern Virginia. The aroma of tomatoes and Italian spices hung in the air. Cheese pizza, available by the slice, was served on paper plates.

Long-time customer and retired Navy cook Charles Undercuffler said he’s come to Gino’s place for about 20 years and drives almost half an hour to get his fix.

His usual order is the Italian specialty sub, but he said the calamari is the best in the Beach.

“I like good sandwiches because I come from Philadelphia — born and raised eating cheesesteaks and hoagies,” Undercuffler said. “When I find a good sandwich, that’s where I go.”

It’s more than food that keeps him coming back, Undercuffler added.

“Mikey, he’s a nice guy. His wife, oh she’s great. Get her and my wife together and they won’t stop talking,” Undercuffler said. “When I find a place, I stick with it, and this is the place.”

The other family

Still, Haroon’s family is pulling on him from Michigan.

His father died two years ago. His mother lives in suburban Detroit. He has five sisters and seven brothers he’s lived away from for a long time.

And he wants to spend more time with his mother while she’s alive, he said in the phone interview.

So he listed Mini Italia on Craigslist for $215,000. He doesn’t own the building. Rent is $2,250 per month, and a new owner would have to pay that, too.

If Craigslist doesn’t pan out, he might head to Michigan anyway and leave Mini-Italia to his in-laws, he said at the restaurant Wednesday.

The news seemed to take them by surprise.

But he’d keep an eye on things — remotely — with the benefit of in store-surveillance.

“I have a lot of faithful customers and I’m going to miss them, but I’ll come back to see them,” he said. “I can watch them on the cameras.”

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