HIBBING — Call them crusty, and they are likely to thank you for it.
“That is key,” said Rich Chalupsky, who along with wife Rachel, co-own and operate Sammy’s Pizza here in Hibbing. “All of the restaurants form their pizzas with the signature crimped crust made from the dough they mixed that morning.”
Sammy’s was founded here, and is still going strong 60-plus years later.
The other key to the business’s longevity and success? Family.
Today, there are 14 locations in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. All are owned and operated by family members and close friends. With sons, daughters, cousins, nephews and nieces, Sammy’s is into its fourth generation of pizza makers.
That longevity, as well as the Chalupsky’s dedication, loyalty and service to the community, has prompted the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce to name Sammy’s Pizza as Business of the Year.
The Chalupskys and partner Tony Jerulle, a Hibbing native, were honored with an award during the 111th annual dinner Friday at the Elks Lodge at the Androy.
“We want to personally thank the Chamber, the community and all of you for the support over the years,” said Jerulle, who also owns Sammy’s in Grand Rapids. “Thank you all for making Sammy’s such a big, big part of your lives.”
The Business of the Year award honors the entire business — its employees, managers, owners and history.
For 2016, five Hibbing Chamber members were nominated and the board of directors voted for the winner at its regular December Board meeting.
As World War II soldiers returned home from Italy telling tales of their favorite food, the popularity of pizza in the United States grew. Sam Perrella, a former miner who owned a little café in Keewatin, picked up on this growing trend.
Having connections in Chicago, Perrella visited with some pizza makers there and returned to Minnesota with an idea that sparked and gave birth to what we now all know and love as Sammy’s Pizza.
Sam and his wife, Louise, moved their small cafe from Keewatin to the more populated city of Hibbing with the encouragement of family, friends and customers.
With the move, Sam expanded the menu with pizzas — even though not too many people here knew what pizza was. After a great deal of experimentation and sauce recipe development, he introduced the “pie” with its own secret recipe to the Iron Range.
In October 1954, they opened the doors of the first Sammy’s Pizza. It happened to be the very first pizzeria in the area as well.
Sammy’s soon became the place to eat.
“The pizza and the original store was an immediate success,” according to Marguerite (Perrella) Acheson, daughter of Sam and original owner of Sammy’s Pizza in Lakeside.
Chalupsky said it’s fun to think back and picture Sam tossing pizza crusts into the air in the front window facing Hibbing’s main street.
“From those first passersby who were intrigued by what they saw — this man tossing dough into the air, wondering what could that possibly be — to the loyal customers and fans we have today who now understand why it’s so special, the tradition of Sammy’s has truly become a part of the heart and soul of our community,” he said.
The restaurant grew and eventually moved across the street from the original location. The menu expanded too, but the family stayed with its traditions and secret recipes.
All of the restaurants still use Sam’s original secret mix of seasonings — or what they call “goodie bags” — for their sauce. The Hibbing location also serves the Perrella family’s sauce, meatballs, cheese raviolis and gnocchis, which are provided by Sam and Louise’s son, Jeff, and his team.
“It’s been the same as it has been for 60 years,” said Chalupsky. “… We also all carry on the same philosophy Sam and Louise started 60 years ago, which is to ‘go through the extra effort to serve a meal you would be proud to serve in your own home.’”
The Chalupskys actually met in college while working at Sammy’s in Grand Rapids for Jerulle. They stayed in the pizza business and, in 2002, jumped at the chance to partner with Tony and Kelly Jerulle and Mike and Pam Jerulle (operators of Sammy’s in West Duluth) to purchase Sammy’s in Hibbing and Sammy’s in West Duluth from Jeff and Cam Perrella.
“It was our chance to be owners,” said Rich, calling himself a true “mail room story.”
Their first years were hard, and required a lot of hours, they said. But the downtown Hibbing pizzeria thrived. Sammy’s celebrated its 60-year anniversary in 2014.
“I still love coming to work every day. I really do,” said Rich.
They also got their children, Kassi and Jed, involved in the business. Today, the two are away at college.
Keeping with tradition has kept customers returning. The Chalupskys said having loyal customers has also added to the business’s continued success.
“We have a lot of loyal customers, which I think is special here in Hibbing,” said Rachael. “People like to come in and tell their stories about when this place was across the street, how they brought their kids here and how when they come back to town they have to come here for pizza. It’s really nice to hear those stories.”
“The Iron Range is full of loyal people. Treat them right and they will treat you right,” he said. “Just as we are proud to be here doing this, they are proud that we are here doing this and want to support us.”
The Chamber recognition comes the same week that PMQ Pizza Magazine, the pizza industry’s No. 1 trade publication, inducted Sammy’s Pizza into its Pizza Hall of Fame.
Created by PMQ, the Pizza Hall of Fame pays tribute to the rich cultural history of American pizza and honors popular U.S. pizzerias that have been in business for 50 years or longer.
“When we received the news, we were ecstatic,” said Jerulle. “We owe it all to our customers. We are nothing without them. They are true, loyal fans and, in so many ways, put the ‘family’ in Sammy’s.”
The Chalupskys and Jerulle said they feel privileged to be recognized and to be a part of Hibbing’s history.
“We are nothing if not for all of our customers,” said Rich. “Yes, Sammy’s has a rich history, but it is truly the entire Hibbing community that inspires us to continue pursuing excellence and building the legacy that was started by Sam and Louise.”
What started off as a new, uncertain venture has resulted in more than 20 millions pizzas that continue to be in demand.
“Thank you very much for this incredible honor,” said Rich in accepting the award. “ Year after year you have supported us, and we are honored to have made your pizzas. Here’s to another 61 years.”