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Pizza Double Feature, Part 1: Moreno’s

Pizza Double Feature logoBurlington — the final frontier. That’s how it seemed to Pat Moreno, Malden High class of 1955. His mother really did call Burlington the frontier. Well, like a true frontiersman, young Pat settled here in 1963 with his wife, Shirley, and set up a pioneering business, a sub shop, something alien to agrarian Burlington, which was still raising pigs and turkeys in the early 1960s.

For Burlington developer Ted Murray, who was eager to fill space in his newfangled Economy Shoppers Center, Pat was a gift from the heavens, renting two adjacent units at once in a high-stakes gamble. Pat figured he could draw on his experience working for his father in the Santoro’s sub chain. Burlington didn’t have many eateries at all, and zero sub shops. “Moreno’s” would have the town to itself. Or so it seemed.

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While Pat and Shirley were prepping Moreno’s for opening day — putting down new tiles, dragging in a new work counter in the back, painting the walls — a woman came through the door and silently, conspicuously, looked around the place, a like a secret agent from another business. She was there for just a few moments, made no eye contact and left with nary a word.

It was Carol Tombion from Malden High, class of 1955. Pat had dated her once. What in the world was she doing out here on the frontier?

Pat asked around and discovered that about a half-mile up Cambridge Street, a guy named Algiero Tombion was operating a sub shop named after his daughter. So Pat didn’t have Burlington to himself after all. By some incalculable coincidence, his former classmate was now his archrival selling subs on the frontier.

Ray's Barber Shop and Carol's Pizza, Burlington, MA
Nothing to see here, folks, except Carol’s place and Ray’s Modern Barber Shop. The plaza was later re-built and now contains Burlington Jade and Spencer Cleaners. Ray’s, of course, moved across the street to its current location.

Opening day

It was bedlam at Moreno’s! “I think everyone in town found their way in,” Pat recalls. “We sold out of bread. I had to run to Piantedosi’s in Malden to get more. I had to call Coca-Cola and tell them I needed another eight crates.”

Carol had the first-mover advantage, but Pat had the DNA. “This whole idea of the submarine sandwich didn’t exist in the Boston area until my cousin Charlie came from Pennsylvania to the Boston area. He was the one who first started putting submarine sandwiches together.”

Carol’s eventually folded. Did Pat put Carol out of business? We may never know. But now Pat was in deep. He couldn’t leave work. He was never done. Late on Saturday nights, landlord Ted Murray would bring him the Sunday paper and some ice cream.

Moreno’s was just getting rolling. Pat started selling meat separately and offered fancy trays of cold cuts despite a profound lack of fancy trays. His resourceful sister looked carefully at the bushel containers that transported vegetables to Moreno’s. She took the bushel covers, strictly utilitarian lids that allowed bushels to be stacked on each other, and wrapped them with shiny foil. Done!

Moreno's menu

Now serving pizza

Submarine sandwiches? Success. Deli counter? Success. But pizza was a super-risky novelty. Pizzerias are everywhere now, but not a half-century ago. Pat had reinvested all of his earnings into his business, so when he took the plunge and bought expensive pizza equipment, he had zero cash to spend. He used credit for everything.

As he was signing his life away, Pat met a distraught East Boston guy named Mike Valerio who was doing the same. “He was desperate. In fact, he was almost crying. He was a young guy with a place called Piece O’ Pizza, and he was very upset. It wasn’t going well. He had no money. He told me to get out while I could. Run the other way.”

 

Time out. Let’s back up. Pat wasn’t even supposed to be operating his own shop, never mind expanding it on credit. He was a Winchester school teacher specializing in Romance languages. One of his relatives was supposed to operate Moreno’s while Pat taught during the school year, and then Pat would take over just for the summer. Unfortunately, the relative was over his head from the get-go, so Pat had to rescue it full-time. Beyond full-time. This was a monstrous job, 90 hours per week, and Moreno’s wasn’t done growing.

That didn’t mean there was no time for fun. When children from Burlington Church of Christ decided to try their hands at pizza-making, Pat caught wind of the project and offered his real ingredients and even a behind-the-counter tutorial. So he taught not only Romance languages, but also, in a pinch at least, the culinary arts. His real food was much better than the crummy store-bought kits available:

Appian Way

“It was beyond exciting that a few of us got to go. And then we were the experts who showed the rest of the group how it’s done,” says Cindy Arthur Bocrie, one of those lucky children, now a nurse.

Party catering and company cafeterias

Moreno’s expanded to full-fledged catering and full sit-down dinners. “The catering and the pizza shop took up all of my time and effort. As we grew to three or four trucks delivering food and equipment for dinners, our credibility continued to grow. Every year, I had to stay through the night just before Christmas to help fill orders.

“There were so many high points. I catered many local weddings and anniversaries. I provided food for very nearly every funeral in Burlington for many years. In the 1978 blizzard I supplied coffee, some delivered by sled to the high school, and food for the stranded from Route 128 as well as police, fire and snowplow drivers. They were heady days.”

Laura Severino says her wedding had the best food she’s ever experienced at any wedding. “My guests were amazed that it was catered by Moreno’s. ‘That place in the center?’ they asked. Yup. We will celebrate our 37th anniversary with our three sons and now three granddaughters. I will always have fond memories of that little slice of heaven in Burlington center.”

Local companies wanted Pat to run their cafeterias. He signed on with three: Transitron of Wakefield, Inforex in Burlington and EG&G, a very large Bedford research company. “I was over-extended but tried very hard to accommodate all aspects of my growing and demanding commitments. I rented two more shops from the Murrays and now had five units in a nine-unit building.”

Here’s the footprint:

Moreno's Pizza and Deli, Burlington MA

Remi Bruyninga
Remi Bruyninga, BHS class of 1977, says he downed Moreno’s meatball subs every Friday before his football games. “Best carbs and protein ever.” He now owns Elite Fit Center in Michigan.

Enough! Back to teaching

“However, by 1978 I was overwhelmed and had some budding health issues as well as a somewhat disenchanted wife with two children. Yearning for the more civil life of teaching, I decided to sell in 1980, but I couldn’t find a willing buyer. Everyone appeared to be overwhelmed by the variety of needs for a dispersed and daily demanding business. Finally in 1981 I agreed to sell the pizza and deli business to Carl Giannelli, abandoning the corporate business and catering.

“It had been many difficult years for my young family. I returned to teaching in Plymouth and Carver in 1983 and remained for 12 years, in spite of the 130-mile daily commute. In 2000 I transferred to Everett and retired in 2005. Shortly after retirement I was called by Supt. James Picone of Burlington and taught for almost three years. I couldn’t help but wish that he’d called 20 years earlier.

“My wife Shirley and I have now passed nearly 55 years in Burlington and often sigh at the changes in the growth of the town and our neighborhood. We celebrate our town and our neighbors. As a former shop owner, I celebrate also the many names of friends and supporters; the Hanafins, the Robertos, the Tarpeys, the Murrays, the Valentis, the Castrbertis, the Doyles, the Grahams, the Todaros, the Ferraras, the Covinos and so very many more. A couple months ago while shopping, Mr. Halvorsen stopped to remind me that he was a young customer many years ago.”

A happy ending. But wait — there are two happy endings.

The distraught young guy named Mike Valerio, who urged Pat to flee the pizza business, didn’t give up. His troubled Piece O’ Pizza shop eventually gained a following and grew into a big chain under a new name. Look at the top right corner.

Mike and Helen Valerio
Mike and Helen Valerio

2 thoughts on “Pizza Double Feature, Part 1: Moreno’s Leave a comment

  1. I loved this story, having been there when Moreno’s first came to town. Best subs and pizza ever. My first job was making subs at “Carols”. Who knew (the connection)?!! And, Mike and Helen Valerio – Papa Gino’s!!! Wow. I love success stories.
    Nice to hear about the beginnings and the history of how Moreno’s grew. Oh, and Shirley is a lovely person. I know first hand – she was my tennis partner for awhile.
    Thanks for this great piece. So fun.

  2. I worked for Pat while attending Merrimack College. Pat taught me about the importance of work ethic. I will never forget him.

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