Antica Pizzeria is built on quality, passion and values
By Stefanie Croley
Besides its namesake tourist attraction, Niagara Falls caters to tourists in several other ways, including restaurants.
Besides its namesake tourist attraction, Niagara Falls caters to tourists in several other ways, including restaurants. An abundance of eateries fill the streets with options to satisfy any taste buds, from Brazilian steakhouses to Indian cuisine. And, of course, wood-fired Italian pizza.
|From left to right, Dave, Pat, Tio, Dora,|
Anthony and John with one of the wood-fired ovens that have made their
Niagara Falls is home to Antica Pizzeria and the Mascia family: parents John and Dora, and their four sons, Tio, Pat, Anthony and Dave. John and Dora immigrated to Canada from Italy in the late 1960s to start a new life; John worked as a bricklayer, and Dora in restaurants. When a man from Naples, Italy, opened Antica Pizzeria in Niagara Falls in 1990-91, Dora worked in the kitchen, helping the owner build a restaurant from the ground up. In 1994-95, when the owner decided he wanted to return to Italy, John and Dora were given the opportunity to purchase the restaurant. “The timing was perfect,” says Tio. “We were all teenagers and we’ve always liked this type of business.”
The business truly revolves around passion and family. All four brothers are involved in the restaurant: Dave likes to cook and handle marketing, Anthony handles operations, and Tio and Pat can often be found at the front of the house, dealing with customers. John and Dora work in the kitchen making pizzas and preparing other meals. But although they all enjoy different aspects of it, Tio notes that it’s necessary to know every square inch of operation in the restaurant business. “We all pour our passion into our product,” Dave says. All six members are dedicated to their restaurant, a business they’ve watched grow and succeed over the years. “It’s our baby.”
What started out as a small, 80-seat eatery with a 10-pizza menu has since expanded to a restaurant that holds 275 seats, with many more classic Italian recipes adorning its menu. The warm, authentic atmosphere is immediately felt upon entering, and the smell of fresh ingredients fills the air. Two wood-fired ovens, built by John, are visible from the front of the house, and what Dave describes as the “Cadillac” of espresso machines can be viewed from the front entrance. Through the doors on the left lies a room that can accommodate approximately 80 people for private functions. “When the opportunity knocked [to expand with a new piece of property] we took it,” says Tio. “We were new to this; we had only been in business for four years.”
But the simple, rustic, yet modern, décor remains the same throughout the restaurant. “We broke the traditional pizzeria model,” Dave adds. “We wanted to give customers a gourmet pizzeria in a nice atmosphere, as if they were in Italy, and they appreciate it.” But, Tio adds, simplicity is best, and the family had no desire to foray into fine dining. “We didn’t want tablecloths. We’re just an average family. We want people to feel comfortable to bring their kids in.” The outside received a facelift last winter to match the inside’s modern feel.
A quick peek at the menu proves Tio’s point that less is more. Dave notes that the meals enjoyed by his family in the old country are now popular favourites. “The poor man’s food back in the day is now gourmet,” he says. Inspired by traditional favourites, Antica’s dishes use fresh ingredients and age-old recipes. The restaurant offers signature Italian comfort foods, such as eggplant parmigiana and gnocchi, but wood-oven pizzas are its specialty.
Dough and tomato sauce are made fresh every morning, and the fresh herbs that John grows in his backyard can be smelled throughout the restaurant. The recently added Calabrese pizza, with such toppings as hot salami, mushrooms and kalamata olives, is quite popular. Classics such as margherita and napoletana are clear customer favourites, though. “Those fresh ingredients – homemade sauce, the garlic and basil from my dad’s garden . . . simple is more,” Dave says. But, he adds, they do change it up every once in a while. Their American customers tend to prefer toppings like pancetta and prosciutto. A whole-wheat crust is now available, and Dave says the kitchen is experimenting with gluten-free options. “We have gluten-free pastas,” Tio says, “but it’s hard with pizza. You almost have to have a separate oven and workstation.” Nevertheless, Dave hopes to have a gluten-free crust available within the next year.
Operating a restaurant in a seasonal tourist centre can be challenging, but Tio notes that every year they’re noticing less and less of a decline. Warmer winters have been helpful, and Antica’s regular customers still remember to visit through the cooler months. “Sometimes the regulars don’t want to be in the mess of people in the summer; they like it when it’s a little quieter.” The restaurant employs around 70 people through peak season, but the staff shrinks back down to approximately 20 through the winter. Some of those staff members have been with the restaurant since its inception, displaying a loyalty Tio credits to the family atmosphere the Mascias have worked hard to develop.
Of course, a family atmosphere means working with your parents and siblings every day, and the brothers say that isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. “Everyone has their own opinion, but it’s nice that we all have different personalities and characteristics,” Tio says. “If we were all the same, it would probably be more difficult to work together.”
“We argue,” Dave adds, “but at the end of the day we’re having coffee.” And, as Tio notes, everyone is there for the same reason. “You have six people with six different opinions, but at the end of the day, the goal is reached. You’ve got to let things go and see the bigger picture.”
The third generation of Masicas is still young, but Tio hopes his children and nieces and nephews will carry on the business after their grandparents worked so hard to build it. “I’ll bring my kids in to help make dough. I love the memories of family being together . . . the chatter, the stories, the arguing. It’s so special,” he says.
“Watching the restaurant grow has been great,” Dave adds. “You always have a vision of it being bigger and better, and you work so hard to get there . . . we’re very fortunate in what we have.”
But the brothers agree that the most credit for the success of the restaurant goes to their parents. “Understanding what they did for us, to give us this opportunity . . . it keeps us humble,” Tio says. “They’re in their 60s and still working so hard, and that motivates us.”