By SEAN CLOUGHERTY Managing Editor
HARRINGTON, Del. (July 19, 2016) — In 1961, Pete Pizzadili was 20 years old and looking for a way to pay his tuition to Wesley College.
Living in Felton, Del., he looked into selling food at the nearby Delaware State Fair.
He said he was already in the food business working at his family’s deli in Dover and, though his parents had reservations about him doing it, he went for it.
That first year, he started with hamburgers and Italian subs for 35 cents each, he said, and right away it was a success.
“The first year I made big-time money for 10 straight days,” Pizzadili said. “What I liked most is the people of the fair accepted me. That was an honor.”
Now, long after Pete paid his college tuition, his booth still stands in the same spot — across from the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s building on the Rider Road side — from when he started. He also added a second booth on the fairgrounds in the mid-1980s.
Pete came to Delaware from Italy in 1956 with his family, a year after his uncle John opened Pizzadili’s Deli in Dover.
The family, with Pete a partner in the business with is brother Tony since 1968, has been a mainstay in the Dover area, even surviving a fire in 1974 that completely destroyed the deli.
He said he always wanted to have the same friendly atmosphere at the fair booth as the family had in the deli.
As the years went on, “Pete’s” added more items and strong following from fairgoers each year.
“They came there and come back every year,” Pizzadilli said. “That makes you feel good when you see that.”
Along with seeing loyal customers each year, Pizzadili said he’s had some dedicated people help run the booth for many years.
It takes about 15 people to staff the main booth for the run of the fair but.
It talking about the people who’ve helped him, he singled out the late Jim Blades, an athletic director at Felton’s Lake Forest High School and Bill Falasco, longtime baseball coach at Lake Forest as two who have helped him the longest.
“Jim worked there a long time. I really miss him,” Pizzadili said. “And Bill’s been with me for 38 years. He does a good job. He not only works there but he’s a friend.”
At 76 years old, Pizzadili said the heat has taken a toll on him in recent years and he hasn’t been at his booth as much but he said it hasn’t totally squashed his desire of coming to the fair to see old friends.
”I do it for the friendships and seeing the people come year after year.”