Authentic before it was cool

08/22/2022

By Beverly Molnar

In 1963, Andy Zangrilli opened his first restaurant, a small pizza shop in State College. As he refined his brand, he expanded his signature fare of casual Italian and American dining throughout Pennsylvania, eventually introducing 30 additional locations to his restaurant portfolio. However, through nearly 60 years of changing times and tastes, he’s continued to make Happy Valley his home base for business.

Andy Z at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in the 1980s. Credit ©HiWay Pizza.

“[At the time I planned to go into business for myself], I saw reports in the newspaper that college towns were the fastest-growing areas and had good opportunities to grow,” Zangrilli said. “I looked at Maryland, Delaware and Penn State.” His eventual choice just happened to be, for all practical purposes, in his backyard; Zangrilli grew up in Altoona and got his start working in a local pizza shop at age 13.

“I was raised to earn my own money, so it was a job to work through high school,” he said. “I learned to make Sicilian-style sheet pizza from an old Italian guy, Mr. Riccio.”

After graduating high school and some time in the Army, Zangrilli decided that selling pizza would be a good way to support a family.

“The owner already had four or five stores, and I called him and floated this idea to open another store,” he said. “Initially, I got paid by the sheet pan — 55 cents per sheet. We kept growing, and before I got married, I asked him to sell me the business. Since I had been with him such a long time, he agreed.”

That new shop was State College’s first HiWay Pizza location, selling square-cut, Sicilian-style pizza on Heister Street downtown. Zangrilli’s research and business instincts paid off quickly, as customers lined up for blocks to try a slice of his pizza. By the early 1970s, business was booming and demand was high enough to open three additional locations: one selling round pies just a block away on Garner Street, and two full-service, dine-in locations further away on Westerly Parkway and North Atherton Street.

“Andy has always done everything from scratch — and not just the pizza,” said J. P. Mills, the current director at Dante’s Restaurants. “He always has to stay on trend with how and why people go out to eat and drink. In the here and now, that means we’re here to entertain you. It’s very much about the customer experience: music, TV, the general atmosphere.”

Eventually, Zangrilli expanded his vision to create a multi-concept corporation, Dante’s Restaurants Inc., offering dozens of unique bar and restaurant experiences across the state. Most of these locations were eventually closed or sold to other proprietors, so Zangrilli could focus on enhancing the brand concept and guest experience at his Happy Valley locations, which continued to grow. “Andy has always done everything from scratch — and not just the pizza,” said J. P. Mills, the current director at Dante’s Restaurants. “He always has to stay on trend with how and why people go out to eat and drink. In the here and now, that means we’re here to entertain you. It’s very much about the customer experience: music, TV, the general atmosphere.”

“I have always been authentic even before that word was cool,” Zangrilli said proudly.

Andy Z at his newest location, HiWay Pizza Pub West, which opened in November 2017. ©HiWay Pizza.

This focus on customer experience is evident in HiWay’s latest “made-from-scratch” location, which opened in November 2017. HiWay Pizza Pub West, occupying the location of the former Westside Stadium Bar & Grill, offers a fun casual atmosphere with free WiFi, high-definition video monitors featuring continuous sports action, a spacious central bar, separate group seating and an expansive carryout and delivery counter — all of which support today’s hospitality trends of state-of-the-art technology, handcrafted cocktails, family dining, online ordering and third-party delivery services.

That said, the main ingredient at each HiWay location — currently three operating in State College — is still the high-quality pizza that has been Zangrilli’s signature since the very beginning: fresh and made from scratch daily using handmade doughs, Italian sauces and the finest authentic imported ingredients. "I have always been authentic even before that word was cool," Zangrilli said proudly.

We have never been afraid of change, which has helped with the ebbs and flows of what is popular and how customers’ wants have changed through the years.”

“I think that I was priced right in the beginning — two cuts of pizza for a quarter! — and have always had the taste and consistency that people appreciated. We have never been afraid of change, which has helped with the ebbs and flows of what is popular and how customers’ wants have changed through the years.”

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