by Jim Boyle
It would be a stretch to say pizza and pasta sauce run through the veins of Elk River’s Joe Perrella and his siblings.
But it’s true that the Perrellas can’t go for very long without enjoying the successful recipes behind the business that their grandparents started 63 years ago.
Come next month, you will be able to enjoy their favorites and more when Joe and his siblings Jeff Perrella and Louisa (Perrella) Brooks open the newest Sammy’s Pizza and Restaurant in Elk River.
Sam and Louise Perrella opened the family’s first restaurant in 1954 when they moved a small cafe from Keewatin to the more populated Hibbing and added something relatively unknown back then called “pizza.”
Three generations of Perrellas later, the restaurant remains successful on the Iron Range. It still has a strong pull for family who have moved off the Range.
Joe, Jeff and Louisa, with the help of other family members, will open their newest restaurant in the early part of May in a remodeled space that used to be home to Time Out Sports Bar and Restaurant. The Perrellas also run the family restaurant in Coon Rapids.
Joe had a yearning to open a restaurant in Elk River ever since he moved to the community a dozen years ago and sensed a need for one.
The location in Coon Rapids came to be in 2004, and when Time Out closed last year, Joe knew it was time make good on his dream.
The family recipes that resonated on the Range have been embraced as the third generation migrated to the Cities.
Growing up, the Perrellas grandchildren worked for their grandparents at a young age. At first, they took on small jobs that needed to be done. When they were old enough to be official employees, they spent many long nights doing dishes and later moved up to cooking, making pizzas, delivering food, waiting tables and eventually managing.
“We got all our experience at the original store in Hibbing, which was eventually passed on to our mom and dad,” Joe Perrella said.
After high school, they made their way to college. Like others in his family, Joe Perrella tried the “9 to 5 thing,” but wound up back in the family restaurant business. So did his siblings.
“It’s what we know, and we love the food,” he said. “I missed the food.”
Joe’s help will include a cousin who lives in Elk River and his sibling partners in the Coon Rapids establishment.
The group added a bar three years ago in Coon Rapids location, which is across from the AMC movie theater; the Elk River location, which is being leased from Phoenix Enterprises, will have a bar right from the start. The Elk River restaurant will be slightly smaller at 6,000 square feet but will have a much larger outdoor patio.
“We’re really excited about that,” Joe Perrella said. “That’s about three times bigger.”
Some of the recipes on the menu date back several generations, back to Capestrano, Italy, where Perrella ancestors were known as the finest cooks around, according to the restaurant’s website.
One of the grandkids’ favorites is Great-grandma G.’s gnocchi, which she used to make for them when they were children.
“We still use her recipe,” the Perrellas say. “Everyone knew her as Grandma G. That was easier to say than Grandma Giansanti.”
Grandma G.’s wedding picture from 1922 hangs in the Coon Rapids restaurant. It will hang in Elk River, too.
When Sam and Louise Perrella first started, most people in northern Minnesota didn’t even know what a pizza was. Their single pizzeria in Hibbing eventually grew to 15 locations (and growing) that are still around today.
The grandkids’ roles as owners began when the Coon Rapids restaurant opened. After years of planning and location searching, and tons of help from their parents, their dream became a reality.
According to the restaurant’s website, the Perrella grandchildren never felt so many emotions at one time. Anxious, excited, scared, happy, exhausted were among adjectives.
“We were so proud the first time my grandma came to our new restaurant,” the website states. “We don’t think that her and grandpa thought that their little shop would go this far and change so many lives. It sure changed ours.”
Louise, now 95 years old, still works. So does Joe, Jeff, and Louisa’s father, Jeff Sr..
Louise and Sam were aided by their siblings and they had four children of their own. They now have 15 grandkids with restaurants in places like Duluth, Grand Rapids and Cloquet. The Hibbing store was sold to friends who continue to run the business as a Sammy’s Pizza.
The core ingredients of the successful pizzeria are the dough, the cheese and the sauce, which are still made with the same secret recipes concocted back in the 1950s.
In 2006, the group opened a second location in Brooklyn Park, but that one was recently closed in preparation for the Elk River opening.
Joe Perrella said he believes the Elk River location will be a huge success. Customers can expect a rustic, Italian vibe accented by a family-friendly staff and an Iron Range work ethic.
“I see this as a huge home run,” he said. “We already have customers who live here and will appreciate this new location.”
Joe is also confident first-time customers will come back for more. He and his siblings certainly had to figure out how to do that.