Aldo’s turns 40!

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 4:15pm

The main thing that can be heard in Steve and Anna Papa’s voices when they talk about the business they have built up over the past four decades is genuine pride. Aldo’s Restaurant started as a little family pizzeria in 1977, back when Block Island was not nearly as busy as it is now. But little by little the Papas persevered, invested back into the restaurant over time, and, because they had such affection for what they started, this year they are celebrating an anniversary that very few restaurants get to achieve: 40 continuous years in business in the same location.

“My mom and dad came to Block Island in 1956,” said Anna Papa, who was born a Leone. “He was the pastry chef at The Spring House.” In 1969, Aldo Leone bought the building where the Restaurant is today. The building was the old fire barn for the town, said Steve Papa. But Anna said her father saw something others didn’t. “He was a visionary guy. He gave us this opportunity,” she said. Eight years later, they opened the restaurant.

Before that, there was a lot of work to do. The restaurant space “was a dirt floor,” said Steve. “Twenty-five by twenty-five.” They had a sign designed by a guy named “Hippy Lee.” When the Restaurant opened on Memorial Day Weekend, 1977, the Papas sold pizzas and submarine sandwiches out of a dining room that had all of two tables and four stools.

It wasn’t easy, though. The Papas went down to Florida every winter to work. “All through the 1970s and 80s we had two, three jobs in the winter in Florida to make this work,” said Steve. 

“We just worked,” said Anna. Two kids came along, Christina and Steve Jr., “who grew up in the business with us.” They held block parties on Weldon’s Way, with music provided by old Rhode Island favorites such as the Louie Camp Band. 

Now, Christina and Steve Jr. are about to take over the reins to see what the business will look like for the next 40 years.

“They’re ready to take over and we’re ready to slow down,” said Anna. When asked how they felt when they look back on 40 years of running the restaurant, Anna said, “We’re proud of it. It’s like our child. What we did with it was a good thing.”