Mike would be proud.
Michael Savokinas, the co-founder of Savo’s Pizza 50 years ago with his brother, Ray, died on Sept. 20, just seven months shy of the business’s golden anniversary.
His family carries on the legacy. Mike’s widow, Georgia, and son, Mickey, now run the business, with some help from Mike’s other son, Arthur, founder Ray, and Ray’s wife, Marie.
Ray talked about opening Savo’s in downtown Pittston, which was bustling in 1964. Mike was 22 and Ray was 19.
J.C. Penney’s, Kresge’s, Woolworth’s were anchor tenants and popular stores included Borr & Casey Drugstore, W.T. Grant’s and American Auto. The American Theater stood tall and there were no fewer than eight exclusive women’s shops, a handful of stores selling men’s attire, two grocery markets and even Field’s, a women’s hat store.
The sons of Joseph and Madeline Savokinas, the two brothers opened Savo’s at the urging of anther pizzeria owner, Pete Be, who moved his pizza business from Pittston to Exeter.
“Pete told us it would cost us about $800 to open the pizza business,” Mike had said in a past interview. “Well, it ended up costing us about $8,000. I still scorch Pete about that.” Be died in 2001.
The first year, rent was $100 a month, which included heat and water.
When it opened, Savo’s was popular with high school students after school and on weekends. They also did a booming business with factory workers.
Pizza at Savo’s was 10 cents a slice, soda was nickel, hoagies and egg hoagies were 35 cents, footlongs were 30 cents, pork and beef barbecues 40 cents and French fries a quarter.
Lent is still a busy time at Savo’s, and Good Friday and other Fridays in Lent are the busiest pizza days of the year. Super Bowl Sunday is their biggest Buffalo wing day.
Ray did some quick math in his head and said Savo’s has sold well over a million trays of pizza in their 50 years.
Savo’s was the first to offer unbaked pizza in the region, also one of the first to offer home delivery. The pizza sauce is what makes Savo’s stand out and the recipe hasn’t changed since it was created by Mike’s and Ray’s mother, Madeline.
All of their sauces are secret recipies. Their pizza sauce, pasta sauce, buffalo wing sauce and hot dog chili sauce are all kept only in the family.
The key to good pizza, Georgia said, is simmering the sauce first and baking it slow.
“People nowadays cook it too fast and you can tell,” she said. “But our pizza is worth the wait.”
In the 1970s, Downtown Pittston took a turn for the worse and urban planners’ sights were set on shopping centers, away from the downtowns and offering plenty of parking.
The Savokinas brothers moved their business to the Pittston Plaza on the newly constructed Pittston Bypass in 1971. They opened a branch restaurant across from the Midway Shopping Center in Wyoming and ran the concession stand at the Pittston Pool for several years.
In 1975, they closed the Wyoming location, moved their Pittston business within the Pittston Plaza and opened the popular Staircase Lounge with Arthur Bartolai Jr., Mike’s brother-in-law.
Savo’s regularly sponsored Little League teams and football booster clubs. The Savo’s routinely hosted the Pittston Area and Wyoming Area football teams after their traditional Thanksgiving Day game.
In 1977, a fire destroyed the restaurant and lounge, but they were only out of business for six months. In the early 2000s, the Pittston Plaza was converted into a strip mall and Savos’ relocated to their current location. The front of the restaurant is an exact recreation of the original South Main Street Savo’s, painstakingly reconstructed by Mike.
Half of a pink 1964 Cadillac is sticking out of the front of the building, and the rear of the car is displayed inside. There was previously half of a 1964 Ford Mustang, but time and weather took its toll.
And As soon as you walk in the door at Savo’s, you’re greeted by an exact replica of the shop that was on South Main Street in 1964, complete with aqua blue booths and lunch counter. As you enter the restaurant, there are vinyl record covers from 1964. Elvis, Sam Cook, Buddy Holly, The Supremes, the Rolling Stones, Don Ho, Tom Jones, Wayne Newton, The Four Tops, Roy Orbison, Paul Anka, the Dave Clark Five are all displayed proudly. Past the LP covers are Life Magazine covers from that era.
On the back wall inside the restaurant, a massive mural of downtown Pittston in 1964, with Savo’s right where it was, was painted local artist Joseph Borino.
The menu expanded to keep up with Greater Pittston’s ravenous appetite. Specialty pizzas, Buffalo chicken wings, specialty sandwiches, pasta dinners and a kids’ menu were all added.
Even thought Mike didn’t make it to the 50-year anniversary, Savokinas family will continue Mike’s labor of love.
Another 50 years?
“We’ll have to see,” Arthur said. “Fifty years is a long time.”