Tony & Ann’s old fans mob the reopening

The lights are back on at Tony & Ann's, although at a new location. The lights are back on at Tony & Ann's, although at a new location. (David Kamerman/Globe Staff)
By Karen Sackowitz
Globe Correspondent / January 28, 2010

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In the late 1950s, Tom Murray and his high school friends had a tradition.

“When any one of us would get our driver’s license, we would go straight to Tony & Ann’s to celebrate with a pizza,’’ he said. “Tony was always there; he knew all our names.’’

For Jo-Ellen McGreevy and her family, Tony & Ann’s was a Friday night ritual.

“I started eating their pizza when I was 4 years old. Every week my Aunt Stella and Uncle Barry would put in an order and bring my brothers and sisters and I over to pick it up.’’

Theirs are among countless stories and memories shared by fans of Tony & Ann’s Pizza, a North Chelmsford fixture that was opened in 1953 by Tony and Ann Privitera. Originally an ice cream parlor, the shop switched to a pizzeria when Tony invented a secret pizza sauce recipe that received rave reviews.

The Privitera patriarch was known for his constant presence at the pick-up window and his ability to greet every customer by name. Ann worked behind the line, boxing up pizza orders and keeping things running.

Throughout nearly 50 years in business, their growing family stepped up to help. Grandson Anthony learned the secret recipe at age 10, and was the head chef by his 20s. Youngest granddaughter Annamaria was a familiar voice on the phone to those calling in orders. But Tony died in 1999, and the shop closed when Ann retired in 2002.

But to the delight of thousands of Tony & Ann’s fans, the shop has reopened at a new location on Broadway Road in Dracut, under the ownership of Paul Getman and his wife, Annamaria, the granddaughter who took the phone orders, who has now inherited her grandmother’s spot in the busy kitchen.

“Deep down we always knew one day we would open again,’’ Paul said. “The desire was always there - it’s in our blood.’’

Grandson Anthony has returned as well, cooking up the same sweet sauce his grandfather taught him how to make. The Getmans have worked hard to maintain the traditional feel of Tony & Ann’s, but have added more seating, televisions in the waiting area, and a new website.

So far their customers are thrilled.

A Facebook page for Tony & Ann’s boasts more than 3,200 fans, Murray and McGreevy among them. From the time rumors of a reopening surfaced in July, the Facebook page was bustling with posts from ravenous fans.

Nowadays, exchanges on the page are more likely to include people checking on wait times, or sharing ideas on how to better serve the steady flow of customers who flock to the shop every Thursday through Sunday. Former Chelmsford residents want to know if frozen pizzas can be shipped out of town.

Paul Getman is a regular visitor to the Facebook page as well, thanking everyone for their business and reiterating how much their loyalty means to him and his wife.

“I went there, my three children all went there, and now my grandchildren can go too,’’ Murray said. “Plus all my kids’ friends, and their kids . . . we’ll have at least three generations going there.’’

Multiple generations are on both sides of the counter. Matriarch Ann, now 81, can be found helping in the kitchen or sharing memories with the customers. Even the great-great-grandchildren are getting into the act.

“The little ones like to push a broom around,’’ Paul said. “Our 4-year-old is really excited; he thinks it’s the coolest thing that mommy and daddy make pizzas.’’

On the Saturday of their opening weekend earlier this month the shop was mobbed, with waits of up to 4 hours. But the customers couldn’t have cared less.

Among those standing in the cold was Jo-Ellen McGreevy, now Jo-Ellen Montbleau, who was thrilled to get her hands on a Tony & Ann’s pizza for the first time in seven years.

“When I got there, there were about 200 to 300 people,’’ she said. “Everybody was so happy. While we waited we saw people we knew and we chatted with people we didn’t.’’

One man was so overcome with joy that he gave away two of his pizzas - to a military serviceman who was farther back in line.

“When he did that, the place just went nuts,’’ Montbleau said.

No one could be happier with the turnout than the Getmans, who have their own special story to tell about the old days.

“Tony & Ann’s brought me to my wife,’’ said Paul, describing the day, many years ago, when he called in his regular pizza order and ended up chatting with Annamaria.

His future wife kept the phone number on the order and decided to give him a call.

“That was it for me,’’ Paul said. “I still have that answering machine message to this day.’’