The missing slice: Cicero’s Pizza
The history behind a popular Cupertino pizzeria
A pizza with the secret.
That’s how Rik Jones, one of two Cicero’s Pizza owners, describes their unique recipe. Jones and Bob LaVerdi have been a part of the business since the 1970s — a business that began in 1968 with a man named Nunzio Cicero. In 2002, Jones and LaVerdi, Cicero’s grandson and son-in-law respectively, took ownership of the business when they reopened the restaurant after Cicero retired in 2001, deciding to close the business at the age of 87.
During the period of time when Cicero’s Pizza was closed, Jones was employed at an internet company called AltaVista which was a prominent search engine for Google before Yahoo! purchased the brand. A few months before Cicero’s Pizza reopened, Jones left the company and was in the midst of searching for new jobs to explore when LaVerdi, who had worked for his father-in-law for 27 years, presented the business opportunity. Jones happily took up the offer, and the two began planning for the resumption of Cicero’s Pizza.
“[LaVerdi and I wanted to reopen the business because] it’s been a tradition here,” Jones said. “There’s lots of people who come to Cicero’s over the years and so there was certainly the demand for it [when it closed]. When Bob and I would go out to lunch in Cupertino, we would often run into someone who would say, ‘Hey, you going to rebuild the pizzeria? What’s going on?’”
It took many months for the two to officially restart the business. Over six months they looked for the right facility and had to pass several inspections, requiring additional time. However, Jones was pleased to find a former Round Table building that had already included the necessary pizzeria setup, and decided to reopen the restaurant at that location in West San Jose near the Cupertino border. At this new location, the staff has improved food production efficiency by upgrading to newer equipment like rolling machines rather than manually rolling dough with a rolling pin like in their former two locations.
Jones and LaVerdi have not only rebuilt the pizzeria, but have also maintained it as a family business. LaVerdi has two children who currently work at the business and Jones has a 20-year-old daughter who works there as well. Jones believes that they will probably continue to maintain Cicero’s Pizza within their family. To him, it’s become an institution.
According to Jones, the fact that Cicero’s Pizza is solely owned by family plays a role in what differentiates his pizzeria from other chain businesses. Sophomore Nitya Yerraguntla visits the restaurants at least once a month and also attributes the popularity of Cicero’s Pizza to the family-owned factor.
“I think it’s definitely different than other places,” Yerraguntla said. “The vibe there is different, in the way that it’s more like a family-friendly place and not a franchise.”
Yerraguntla’s older sister, who lives in San Francisco, often craves Cicero’s whenever she visits Cupertino, so the restaurant has become a familiar spot for her family ever since she was young. Junior Rukmini Banerjee has also been a fan of the restaurant from her childhood to the present, sometimes visiting the pizzeria four or five times a month.
“If my best friend is over and I’m asking my dad ‘What do we want to eat?’ my dad will be like ‘Let’s go get Cicero’s,’” Banerjee said. “Or sometimes we’ll be celebrating something and we will be like ‘What do you want to eat?’ and it will be like ‘Let’s go get Cicero’s.’”
Over the years, Cicero’s Pizza has become a staple for her, whether she orders to-go when she hangs out with her friends or sits down at the restaurant with family.
“They have that little section at like the back of the restaurant where you can go, and I just remember sitting at a table with the kids on one end, like me and my family friends, and the adults at the other table, and then we’d all cheer when the pizza came,” Banerjee said.
It’s these types of memories that inspires her fond feelings towards the business. Now, the restaurant has become a common place for celebrations with her family, having held multiple birthday parties and family gatherings there.
“They have that warm and friendly and inviting atmosphere, so you literally walk in and you don’t think that you’re just there to help a rich person make more money — you’re going to have pizza, good pizza, and just have a fun time,” Banerjee said.
Jones believes that seeing customers like Banerjee and Yerraguntla are the best part of owning a restaurant like his.
“What makes me happy is seeing how many people are smiling as they’re walking out the door,” Jones said. “You know that they just had a good time in your own restaurant.”