NILES, Ohio – For nearly 60 years, Salvatore’s – or some version of it – has been serving pizzas to the residents of the Mahoning Valley.
Among the 32 pizzas in the display case at the Salvatore’s in Eastwood Mall in Niles, are buffalo, veggie, BBQ and chicken bacon ranch.
”When it was Scotto’s, we didn’t do any of that stuff,” says Biljana Davanzo, who manages the restaurant with her business partner, Rosario Lamota.
“It was pretty much just Sicilian style. Now people really like the ranch mix and other types of pizzas,” she says.
Salvatore’s began in 1975 when Lamota’s father, Michael Coppola, opened the Scotto’s Pizza franchise with his cousins.
Michael took over the Eastwood Mall location in 1977 before retiring and moving back to Italy with his wife and Rosario, whose older brother Salvatore stayed to run the business that now bears his name.
Davanzo began working at Scotto’s when she was 15 years old.
“All my high school friends worked there. There were about six of us,” she says.
The pizzeria moved to a bigger storefront across from the original location and, in 1997, Salvatore opened a restaurant in Howland, where Davanzo began working at age 19.
She and Lamota met in 1993 and have been close ever since.
“I wasn’t enjoying the job that I had,” she says, referring to one of the few places she’s worked that isn’t a Salvatore’s restaurant.
“So, Rose and I went to Sal to talk about doing this,” Davanzo says.
In August 2021, Lamota and Davanzo started managing the pizzeria, which has been serving customers inside the food court at Eastwood Mall for the last 12 years.
Salvatore’s sells pizza by the slice as well as whole pizzas.
“We use good flour and great cheese,” Lamota says. “The mozzarella has buffalo milk in it so it’s creamier and it gives you that extra little kick of salt.”
In March, Salvatore’s took home two awards in the Slice of the Valley pizza contest. It won second place in the specialty pizza category and third place in the people’s choice category.
The business sells at least 100 pizzas a day and has been working to expand its offerings, according to Davanzo.
“A lot of the mall employees don’t want pizza every day. So, we enjoy the other side of it,” she says. “The nice thing is we don’t have the volumes of a big restaurant so we can focus more on fresh.”
Popular menu items include chicken parmesan, cavatelli, Cajun chicken macaroni and cheese, as well as homemade soups and salads.
“Everything is made to order,” Lamota says.
The business does a good amount of takeout business, and is working to sell more in this segment.
A new website is in the works, which will allow customers to order pizzas and dinners online. Currently, takeout is available only through Grub Hub and Door Dash.
“We want [customers] to come in for pizza, not just because they’re coming to the mall,” Davanzo says. “During the day we sell more slices. But at nighttime it’s a lot of whole pizzas for takeout.”
Davanzo and Lamota are also beginning to offer catering for parties, graduations and other occasions.
A little more than a year after taking over the shop, Davanzo and Lamato agree that the mall business model is a good change from working in a traditional restaurant.
“Stresswise, it’s a lot less. Fewer employees, less drama. You have more control here,” Lamota says.
“I really enjoy the cooking aspect of it,” Davanzo says. “It’s more hands on and people get to know you better here because you see the same people.”
Still, Lamota says running the Eastwood Mall Salvatore’s is like a traditional restaurant in one sense: It’s a hands-on business.
“The key to the business, to make it successful, is you have to be in it,” she says. “You have to be in it all the time. You can’t leave it to run itself, especially in the food business.”
Davanzo and Lamota say the pandemic has affected the food industry, though not always in a bad way.
“There’s nothing open past 10 [p.m.] anymore,” Davanzo says.
“COVID changed everything and slowed things down a lot,” Lamota adds. “Enjoy life.”
Davanzo says the holidays are their busiest time of the year as more and more shoppers head to the mall.
“In the summer, weekdays are busy and weekends are slow. Now, weekends are busy and weekdays are slower.”
They’re hoping the extra foot traffic will allow them to introduce their food to more customers who will then return to Salvatore’s all year long.
“We do have a lot of repeat clientele who are coming in for pizzas. They order every week,” Davanzo says. “We’re trying to gear towards those people and let them know it’s not just pizza.”
Pictured at top: Rose Lamota and Biljana Davanzo are the operators of Salvatore’s, a pizzeria that has diversified its menu options.