Galleria Umberto is one of the most popular restaurants in the North End, with its award-winning Sicilian pizza and a unique experience that you won’t find in many other places. Get ready, after their usual summer vacation, re-opening day is coming up: July 31st.
During the downtime, I recently sat down with Paul Deuterio, one of the brothers that owns and works upfront at Umbertos and talked about his beloved restaurant. Paul revealed some historical facts about Umbertos, 289 Hanover Street, and the North End.
Squashing the rumor about closing or selling Galleria Umberto
Before I could even finish the question, Paul seemed to already know what I was asking about and just said, “Oh no no! As long as we are healthy there are no plans of selling.” Regarding the rumor that they would close a few years ago he said, “The rumor had been going around because my brother had his knee replaced and wasn’t in the restaurant for a while.” It looks like Galleria Umberto is here to stay.
Where did the name Galleria Umberto originate?
Galleria Umberto is the name of a mall in Naples, Italy. They named the restaurant after the mall, but also after their father’s name. Paul said that is where his father used to go all the time.
When did Galleria Umberto open?
In 1965, Paul’s father opened a bakery on Parmenter Street. “My mother was influential in helping out too though,” he said. Galleria Umberto opened up in 1974, and for a while the family had both the bakery and the restaurant open at the same time. Eventually, in 1988, they closed the bakery and ran Umberto as their main operation. Pretty soon the North End will have to celebrate 50 years of Umbertos!
What do you think has made Umbertos so famous?
“Any success is a function of years of business. It’s also a function of having something people like and it’s reasonably priced. If you stay open long enough, it snowballs!” Umbertos has been able to find success without adhering to the digital age. There is no website for Umbertos as they would prefer people to find it by word of mouth. Their strategy appears to be working!
Has the menu changed since the 70’s?
The menu has stayed the same over the years with some slight adaptations. He said, “Now there are Harvard research groups to figure out what food goes and what doesn’t go, and what prices to charge. In those days when you started out, you went by the seat of your pants! You would change things, bring new things in, go backwards. It was like Darwinism.”
Paul mentioned that many things in the North End have changed since he was younger. But when people visit Umbertos, which has kept its menu and decor relatively the same, they “Come here to see the ruins!” He joked.
Any plans for expansion?
Paul was adamant that Hanover Street would be the only place where you could have a slice of Umbertos pizza. He stated, “We do all the work ourselves. Most places have a boss and a crew.” The brothers own Umbertos, however Paul says, “we’re also the workers.” Expansion wouldn’t make sense for their perfected practice that has been worked on since the 70’s. With only 7 people total working at Umbertos, there is not enough personnel to open another restaurant.
Questions About The Food
How many trays of pizza do you make in a day?
If the weather is nice, they sell about 60 trays of pizza in a day. He said now more than ever, it really depends on the weather. “All the office buildings around have their own cafeterias. If it’s bad weather, or even forecast bad weather, they stay in.” He also noticed that there is an influx of people coming in at Christmas for parties, just before school starts, and when they reopen at the end of July.
How many pounds of spinach do you go through in a week?
After Paul did a little quick math in his head, he said they go through about 90 pounds of spinach in a week!
The plain spinach calzone is the least popular item so they only make a few of them. Later in the afternoon when you get to the front, they may say they’re all out! He says, “If someone comes in and orders 6 or 7 or 8 of them, there’s almost none left.”
He points out that the calzones are less universal in the way that pizza is. “Everybody likes pizza, but fewer people like spinach… unless you’re Popeye!”
How many arancini do you make in a day?
The Italian rice balls are less predictable. Paul said they sell anywhere between 100 and 250 in a day. He said, “It’s completely random. That’s why we sell out a lot of times because you can’t predict about what you’ll sell.” He continues, “We don’t make extra because we don’t sell anything left over or unsold for the next day.”
Do you make special orders?
Paul said that they do custom orders. For example if someone was to order an entire tray of pizza, then they could put a topping on it for an added price. He said if you give “About a half hours notice to make the pizza,” they can do special orders.
Did You Know?
- 289 Hanover Street used to be a Sailors’ House for men to sleep in when their boats were docked. This was similar to the Mariners House in North Square.
- Paul recollected times when he was younger being able to see men play billiards in what would be Umbertos many years later.
- The dining area where the two murals are used to be a stage in the Sailors’ House.
- Before the Sailors’ House, there were two churches located around what is currently 289 Hanover Street. The first church was called the New Brick Church. In the late 1700’s, another church became the Second Church.
- The original rooster on the weather vane atop of 289 Hanover Street is in a museum, but the replacement was stolen. Paul recently had a new one made. The cardinal directionals, still on the roof, are from around 1875.
- Umbertos used to have a jukebox when Julie Billiart and the Christopher Columbus School were open. Back then, kids were able to leave school for lunchtime. When they went to Umbertos, they would play the jukebox while grabbing a bite to eat!
What time do you start your day?
Paul arrives to work at around 5:30 or 6 AM even though the restaurant does not open until 10:45 AM. He said his brother Ralph begins his day even earlier than that. Paul said in the morning they mix the dough, stretch it out, and bake it. At the same time they also have to get the calzones ready, along with the arancini and the rest of the menu.
Has Umbertos always been open only for lunch?
Umbertos stays open only for lunch because that’s the way the North End works, Paul says. He explained, “You have places open only for breakfast, only for lunch. Then between 3 and 6 there’s nothing going on.” For Umbertos to stay open after 2:30 PM, they would only see an occasional customer because the lunch rush is over. If they wanted to wait until the “next shift” at 6 PM, it’s too late because they have to get up again early in the morning.
“When I used to work in Pizza Regina, same thing, we used to open up for lunch and then it would die out between 2 and 5. That was back in the 60s.” Paul said, “I’m a graduate of the Regina!” Paul used to work at Pizza Regina after he got out of school from 1963 to 1969. He worked there while also working at his family’s bakery.
Have you ever been open at night?
When Umbertos first opened, they tried opening at night for a few months. Paul said that it wasn’t worth doing anymore. They used to open up on Sunday for St. Anthony’s Feast, but that was when they were younger.
Clearing up confusion about the To-Go line
There’s always been a little ambiguity about the To-Go line at Umbertos. Some people aren’t sure if they have to call ahead, or if they can just walk in. Paul said the To-Go line is meant for people who have called before coming into the restaurant and have placed an order. This helps the flow of the lines move much quicker.
Any Plans For The Future?
“Eh.. Who knows!” He said half-jokingly, “Maybe in the future we’ll have a pepperoni pizza tray. It’d be the round tray though.” He continued, “It’s always too busy to try new things!”
Umbertos is closed for the month of July, and people can hardly wait for the lunchtime restaurant to open up again. Towards the end of my time with Paul, the phone rang. He reminded the caller about the date everyone looks forward to; “We’ll be open again on July 31st.”