Filomena D’Amore is the owner of Patsy’s Pizza, stall #448, a legendary pizza shop that opened in 1949 at the Farmers Market. She bought the store from her mother, Rose, for a nominal sum in 1998. Still using the original oven her beloved father Patsy used when he opened the store, Filomena is proud she has kept the business going. The mother of an adult daughter, Filomena recently shared memories of her family’s fabled past in LA’s restaurant history.
Actually, Dad opened the shop as Patsy D’Amore’s Italian Food but the pizza became so famous that some people just called it Patsy’s Pizza.
When he opened, pizza, which back then cost 20 cents a cut, was still a fairly new food. My Dad and his brother Franklin had come out to LA from Brooklyn in 1939. Uncle Franklin had been in vaudeville and had traveled out here so he knew that pizza did not exist in LA. So in 1939 they opened Casa D’Amore on Cahuenga Blvd.
They first introduced pizza at the restaurant but in 1949 Dad had started talking to Farmers Market representatives about opening here. Pizza and spaghetti were pretty unusual to them, too. As the story goes, their boss, Mr. Gilmore, came to Casa D’Amore one night and no one knew who he was. He ordered a little bit of everything and left. Patsy had no idea who he was but when he came to the Market for another meeting, he met Mr. Gilmore and recognized him as the sampler of all the food. Obviously, he liked what he’d eaten and gave Dad the go ahead. And so, Patsy D’Amore’s opened at the Farmers Market in 1949.
The pizza was popular immediately and people came from all over. There just wasn’t anything else like it out here. What Patsy established here from the day he opened, and what I still carry on as part of that standard, is that food is freshly made every day.
With the businesses thriving, Patsy had to bring in others to cook the family recipes, but it wasn’t that hard to get real pizza men to work for him at the Market. He knew all these men, they came from New York City and needed work. They knew Italian food and eventually, some of our relatives came to work at the pizzeria over the years. We served Neapolitan styled Italian food, exactly the kind of food you get in Naples, Italy, where our family comes from.
In 1950, Dad opened the Villa Capri on Hollywood Boulevard. He had this huge personality, everyone loved him, so the Capri became a legendary hangout for a lot of Hollywood people like Frank Sinatra and James Dean. That’s why I have their pictures with my Dad hanging in the shop, so people will know how famous Patsy was. He died in 1975 and my mother and I kept the Capri open ‘til 1982 and then sold it. It was heartbreaking.
I really wanted to be an artist, but that wasn’t practical so I opted to do some office work at CBS before opening my own restaurant out in the Harbor at the Channel Islands. I did that for about 10 years, serving the same kind of food Mom sold at Patsy’s, all based on our family’s recipes. Mom was tired of running Patsy’s so she retired in 1998 and I took over.
I’ve made only a few changes to the menu, but I expanded the menu to include a Caesar salad, the fresh garlic, basil and tomato pizza and I added a 16 inch pizza. We used to only offer the slices and a 12 inch pizza. My favorite dish is the garlic, basil and tomato pizza. And I spruced up our traditional baked eggplant to eggplant Parmesan and I like that much better, too.
The hard part of making a good pizza is knowing how to mix the right ingredients into the dough. They’re simple, but you have to know the amount of water to put in so the dough isn’t too hard, soft or sticky. It’s hard for some people to learn. The dough reacts to your hands immediately.
It takes practice. You have to press it down, turn it, press it down, slap it. Then you put it on the other side of your palms, on the back of your hands, away from each other, to stretch it. And keep stretching it. You could toss it up and some guys do, it helps make it round and spread it out. Then you put it on the board and flour the board a bit.
It’s pretty easy getting the cheese and sauce on it, but the other problem is getting it off the paddle and into the oven. That’s why flouring the board the right way is important because if it doesn’t slide right off, you could mush it into itself and then you have to start over. And the final challenge is that our original 1948 oven is unique, there’s a big flame to the left, inside the oven. Get the pizza too near the flame, and it’ll burn.
I love being at the Farmers Market because it feels like family and I love being outdoors all day. And I truly love being the owner of Patsy’s Pizza because it represents my father and his legacy and the good food he served. It’s just wonderful carrying on his tradition. I’m very lucky and blessed.