It was without much fanfare that Sal’s Pizza Factory opened its doors on Monroe Road in the Echo Hills neighborhood of southeast Charlotte in 2018, but in the three years since, it has slowly built a cult following, earning rave reviews for its wide assortment of pizzas ranging from staples like cheese or Margherita to more eccentric toppings like calamari and steak fries. Even their vegan pizza has been called the best in Charlotte.
Then in April, just as their counterparts in the restaurant industry were warily stepping back into business as usual, before North Carolina’s COVID-19 restrictions had lifted in full, Sal’s quietly opened a second location, bringing its massive menu to Dilworth.
The pizzeria is unique for its thin crust and gracious amounts of toppings.
Though it’s only been in Charlotte for three years, the popular eatery is built on a foundation decades in the making.
Born in Naples, Italy, Sal Durrazo made his way to New York in 1970 and soon found employment in a Brooklyn pizzeria. On a rare day off, he took a trip to New Jersey, and after seeing the miles of rural landscape before him, decided the city was not the right place to start a family.
Sal and his family soon relocated, and he opened his first pizza place in Marlboro, New Jersey, with his brother-in-law, also named Sal. Naturally, they named it DuSal’s, and over time the restaurant grew to 14 locations across New Jersey.
As Sal’s business expanded, so did his family. Fabio Durrazo, Sal’s son, was born in New Jersey but raised by his grandparents in Italy while his father continued to run his business in New Jersey.
Fabio knew from a young age that he was going to carry on his Sal’s legacy in the pizza business. It was such a foregone conclusion, in fact, that Sal told Fabio’s teachers he didn’t have to do any homework because he already knew where he was going to end up in life: making pizza just like his father.
Fabio moved back to America in the late ’90s and worked in his father’s restaurants until he had enough funds and knowledge to open a place of his own. Opening his first restaurant in Old Bridge, New Jersey under the name Palumbo’s Pizza and Restaurant, Fabio fulfilled the fate that had awaited him all those years.
Soon, Fabio opened another Palumbo’s location in Holmdel, New Jersey. Both locations were successful and Fabio was on his own and running, opening another restaurant in Sayreville, New Jersey, named Romeo’s Pizza & Pasta and eventually F&A Pizzeria near Albany, New York.
Moving south for Sal’s Pizza Factory
Over the years, one by one, Fabio’s extended family started moving south to North Carolina, settling in the Statesville area and opening their own Italian restaurants. Following his parents and siblings, he packed up shop and moved down south in 2018.
Naming his new restaurant Sal’s Pizza Factory in honor of the father who taught him everything he knew, Fabio brought his self-styled “Monmouth-style pizza,” named for the county where Sal’s first shop was located in Marlboro, New Jersey, to the South.
With 25 years making pizzas under his belt, Fabio has mastered the craft of creating quality, delicious pies, though he remains humble about it.
“It’s tough to tell why any cult-like following occurs,” he told Queen City Nerve. “Folks seem to like what we are doing, and we are happy to be serving our community.”
But the following is far from unwarranted. Sal’s unique crust is thin and crispy, allowing for toppings to be piled up, creating a unique flavor profile that’s only amplified by adventurous menu items like buffalo calamari or steak fry pizza. Almost impossible to fold in half like most Americanized pizzas, the pies are perfect for sitting down and savoring each bite.
Both locations sell whole pies ranging between $10-$26, or by the slice. For first timers at Sal’s, the cheese slice should always be the go-to, Fabio said.
“You always get the cheese, and you should be able to tell on the spot how their pie is going to taste,” he explained.
But if that’s a bit too basic for you, Fabio recommends the Grandma slice. Made with a vodka sauce recipe that originates from Sal’s grandma, it’s a distinctive addition to the Sal’s Pizza Factory menu.
“Coming into Sal’s for the first time, you must get a Grandma slice!” he said. “Thin Sicilian crust, our house-made Grandma sauce, fresh mozzarella and a touch of basil, all drizzled with a little olive oil. Perfecto!”
More fan favorites include the Sal’s Special, piled with sausage, pepperoni, onions, mushrooms, and peppers on top of their iconic crust, or the classic Margherita, which is a simple tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella and basil.
If you’re feeling venturesome, the chicken parm, steak fry or buffalo calamari are all delicious and hailed by critics around Charlotte.
Named the best vegan pizza by one writer with CharlotteFive in 2019, Sal’s Pizza Factory also stays inclusive to people with a range of dietary restrictions including vegan and gluten-free.
With wings, salads, pasta, and sandwiches, everything on the menu reflects the New Jersey heritage of Fabio and his father Sal, and by passing down recipes from generation to generation, Sal’s Pizza Factory’s menu stays true to its Italian roots, even in all of its experimentation and hybrid choices.
An expansion following a crisis
Sal’s new location will be largely pick-up and to-go orders, though there’s a bar and a few bistro tables that allow patrons to sit and hang with the staff while they eat.
“The pandemic affected us by making us look at our current business model and see what changes we could make to avoid dining room closures and staff shortages,” said Toby Hufhand, a partner at the new location who says he was the very first customer at the flagship spot on Monroe Road. “The to-go and delivery option was the best alternative. We just focus on quality ingredients, family sauce recipes and creating the perfect crispy crust.”
Foot traffic was never much of a thing in the original Echo Hills location, but with the new site on Park Road, management is excited to become even more of a neighborhood staple. However, it’s not just for folks walking by. Sal’s also delivers within a five-mile radius, which opens them up to thousands of new South End and Dilworth customers.
“We were getting a lot of delivery orders for South End and it’s a bit complicated to get back into these neighborhoods, so finding a location in Dilworth that was available was a blessing for sure,” said Hufhand. “We love Dilworth, we love the people walking, live music at Comet Grill, the juice at Green Brothers is amazing, we feel like we fit in well here in Dilworth.”
Sal’s Pizza Factory is the go-to spot for Monmouth-style pizza, especially considering they appear to have invented it, and with this new location, Sal’s is ready to continue expanding their reach, pandemic be damned.