By Shereen Siewert

It’s the end of an era for an iconic Italian restaurant in Wausau, as Angelo’s Pizza Villa prepares to close following more than 50 years in business.

For many, Angelo’s was a place to gather after Little League games, after high school dances and football games, for birthday parties and engagement celebrations. It was, for many, the place we first tasted the tang of pizza sauce and the burn of crushed red pepper on our tongues. It was a place where friends and families gathered, drinking endless sodas out of bright red cups, mouths watering while awaiting a piping hot, freshly prepared pie.

For some who grew up in the Wausau area, Angelo’s pizza remains the standard by which all other pizzas are measured, and will be for the rest of our lives.

The original Pizza Villa, owned by Angelo and Janet Volpe in DeKalb, Ill. Photo courtesy of Teresa Volpe

Now, the family is making the difficult decision to close.

Dino Corvino, whose father Joey was closely linked to restaurant founder Angelo Volpe, said Angelo’s in its heyday was a significant gathering space for Italian-American families and is woven into the fabric of the lives of longtime Wausau residents.

“Angelo was the first pizza man in Wausau,” Corvino said. “The restaurant, the hotel, it was the center of our lives. I remember all of it exactly, and so many people my age can say the same thing, even outside of our family connections.”

The restaurant has a long, storied history that began in the Chicago area after Angelo arrived in America. He and his wife, Janet, launched The Pizza Villa in 1956 in DeKalb, Ill. at a time when a large Villa DeLuxe cost just $3.95 – with delivery for 25 cents.

Photo courtesy of Teresa Volpe

The couple’s daughter, Teresa Volpe, said that after starting a family her parents wanted a quieter, safer life for their children and moved to the Wausau area, where they opened Angelo’s Pizza Villa on Jackson Street. A second Angelo’s location opened on Ross Avenue in Weston in 1978, with the Sixth Street restaurant opening in 1979.

The downtown restaurant was located in the basement of the former Northern Hotel, a building once owned by Corvino’s great-uncle Carmen. Corvino’s father, Joey, took over the hotel in the 1960s, running the business alongside his wife, Bonnie, until plans for a downtown mall prompted the sale and demolition of the building.

Angelo’s Pizza in downtown Wausau. Photo courtesy of Teresa Volpe

Corvino said the hotel, the Pizza Villa and the adjacent cocktail lounge, The Cloister, were hot spots of activity in Wausau for businessmen, lawmakers, attorneys and city leaders. But most of all, it was about family.

“This is where people went,” he said.

Janet and Angelo Volpe. Photo courtesy of Teresa Volpe

“And then the mall came in and everything changed.”

The brick, two-and-a-half story hotel that housed the first Wausau Angelo’s Pizza Villa was built in 1883. In 1981, the building was torn down to make way for the Wausau Center mall, which opened in 1983. At that time, Volpe bought the Sixth Street building and focused on operations there.

Angelo and Janet semi-retired in 2014 when their son, Peter Volpe, took over day-to-day operations. Peter and his wife, Renee, have worked at and managed the restaurant together for 35 years.

Now, the family is ready for the next chapter. Peter’s son, Pete, will take over and switch to producing wholesale frozen pizzas that will be available at numerous bars and grocery stores in the area.

“We have given this a lot of thought and made this difficult decision based on age, health, and family,” reads an Angelo’s Pizza Facebook post. “It’s time to move on and give our son, Pete, the opportunity to take our business in a different direction. We are proud of his decision and hope you will continue to support us.”

The last day for bar and delivery service is June 5. Locations for frozen pizzas will be listed soon.

But the memories will last forever.