by EDDIE RIVERA
LOS ANGELES, April 27, 2018—Tony Folliero was in his early 20s, a new arrival from Italy, and working in a metal factory on the East Coast. One day he noticed that his hands were itchy and painful. And it wasn’t going away. A friend and fellow worker told him, “Save your hands. Leave this job.”
Folliero, a metallurgist by training, didn’t need a lot of convincing. He headed for Los Angeles, where he began working in a series of restaurants, hoping to use the skills hehad learned in his family’s kitchen back in Napoli.
After a few years, in 1968, to be exact, he gathered the resources and the nerve, to open his own restaurant in a small storefront on a stretch of Figueroa Street in Highland Park. There were maybe eight tables, and you grabbed your own drinks from a grocery store-style cooler in the back of the place.
For the first few months, it was just Tony and one other employee. And great Napolitan-style pizza with a thin, vaguely sweet and puffy crust. Quietly, through word of mouth and sheer greatness, the pizza’s popularity grew.
In 1981, a red brick building across the street became available. That would be their new location. Though over the years, Figueroa Street would become an economic roller coaster ride that mostly went down, Folliero’s was a constant.
It was comfortable and it was affordable. As Tony said at a dinner with friends in Atwater Village a month ago, “I don’t need to make that much money. I’m doing fine.”
One loyal generation of fans begat another whole generation, and then another, and then another, and so it went. And each claimed to have discovered the place.
Fifty years from that spring in 1968, Tony Folliero, 83, stood before the Los Angeles City Council to be honored with a proclamation from First District Councilmember Gil Cedillo, who called Tony “a man ahead of his time,” and the restaurant a “slice of Americana, no pun intended.”
Cedillo also suggested a historical plaque to be placed on Figueroa Street outside the restaurant.
Surrounded by close friends and family, grandchildren and supporters, Tony, who later said he “cherished this day,” said only, ‘Thank you,” when presented with his proclamation.
The recognition from the City was only his second big accomplishment Friday. The first was driving to the restaurant early in the morning, before the staff arrived, to make the starter dough for the day.
As he has done, faithfully, seven days a week. For fifty years.