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Del's Pizzeria continues its beloved run after 50 years, three moves, and countless bread rolls

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Framed photographs pepper the interior of Del's Pizzeria in Pismo Beach.

Jay Leno playfully holds a white Del's T-shirt in one, actors Steve Martin and Rick Moranis gaze right back at patrons in another, and matriarch Bernadette Delmore stands beside them—undoubtedly the heart of the restaurant.

In the 50 years since she started Del's, it has seen 10 presidents, witnessed the birth and escalation of the internet, and withstood economic downturns and a global pandemic, among other major historic events, all while cementing itself as a southern San Luis Obispo County classic.

"Although I wasn't that schooled in cooking, I started prepping the food when we were at restaurant No. 1, and I really got a knack for it," Delmore said while gesturing to a large picture of herself hanging in the busy restaurant.

LIKE MOTHER LIKE SON Bernadette Delmore opened Del's Pizzeria in 1973, and her son and now-manager Ryan has been working there ever since he was a teenager. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • LIKE MOTHER LIKE SON Bernadette Delmore opened Del's Pizzeria in 1973, and her son and now-manager Ryan has been working there ever since he was a teenager.

In the snapshot of 1973, she's dressed in dark jeans and a yellow blouse stirring whatever's bubbling in a large pot on the Italian food joint's opening day. While I was being introduced to Del's storied past, Delmore was revisiting it. Come March 14, Del's will have been in business for half a century.

"I really enjoyed working with people. I got pregnant as soon as we opened the first Del's, so that part wasn't too fun," she said with a laugh.

Del's legacy is synonymous with Delmore's reign. She opened shop with her now ex-husband, Jim, in 1973. They started at 1759 Shell Beach Road—a spot now occupied by Mei's Chinese Restaurant. Twenty-one years later, Del's shifted to 401 Shell Beach Road. By then, Delmore and Jim had split up, and his dad, Ed, helped her with the move. In 2018, Del's finally left the Shell Beach neighborhood for its current location in Pismo Beach, and still honors Ed.

"He was very instrumental in helping us get Del's started when we first opened," Delmore said. "Without him, we might not have been able to do it."

VEGGIE DELIGHT One of Del's 10 pizzas is the Farmer's Market pie that comes with artichoke hearts, black olives, onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms. - FILE PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
  • File Photo By Hayley Thomas Cain
  • VEGGIE DELIGHT One of Del's 10 pizzas is the Farmer's Market pie that comes with artichoke hearts, black olives, onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms.

Ed's memory comes alive with every order of Big Ed's pizza—a pie topped with sausage, meatballs, tomatoes, onions, and garlic. My friend and New Times Calendar Editor Caleb Wiseblood grew up grabbing slices of Big Ed's with his family at 401 Shell Beach Road. The Wisebloods are fans of the pizzas, but Del's bread rolls won Caleb's heart.

"I love them so much," he told me as he snuck bites of a roll while packing up the rest of our second basket.

Made from their pizza dough, the warm and rustic rolls are generous in size and taste even better with thick layers of the house-whipped honey butter. The rolls were Ed's idea, and the restaurant has been dishing them out since 1994.

"On a slow day, we serve 350 to 500 bread rolls. On a busy day, 700, maybe," Delmore said.

While the rolls are a 29-year-old institution, most of Del's menu has adapted to changing times. The current menu boasts three desserts, five styles of calzone, 10 kinds of pizza, 11 varieties of pasta, and a 13-dish strong appetizer list.

SOUTH COUNTY STAPLE Del's famous bread rolls are made fresh daily with pizza dough and come with easy-to-spread whipped honey butter. - PHOTO BY BULBUL RAJAGOPAL
  • Photo By Bulbul Rajagopal
  • SOUTH COUNTY STAPLE Del's famous bread rolls are made fresh daily with pizza dough and come with easy-to-spread whipped honey butter.

The earliest available menu, which Delmore approximates to be circa 1974 or 1975, shows humbler offerings. According to the large wooden menu that Delmore still keeps in her garage, the most expensive item was Del's Family Dinner Special. For $6.75, a group of three to five people could tuck into a family salad, a "spaghetti bucket" with meat sauce, and a regular sized cheese and tomato pizza. Pizza lovers of the '70s could also enjoy pies ranging from $2.35 to $5.50, with extra thick dough and extra cheese setting them back another 25 cents and 35 cents, respectively.

Looking at the old prices, Delmore told me that while the restaurant fared well during the pandemic, increased food costs and decreased supply have been hard on the restaurant.

"I would love to go back to the prices we had on the first day we opened. My manager would kill me if I changed the prices!" Delmore said with a laugh.

Her manager is none other than her son Ryan. He oversees the daily operations at Del's and has been helping out at the eatery since he was a teenager. Other family members work there too. Delmore's other son, Darren, handles the eatery's beer and wine purchasing and is the national sales manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard. Her grandsons Wyatt and Samuel work as a server and a cook, respectively.

Delmore said that she's proud of the restaurant being family-run but wishes she could talk less shop with them.

"One of these years I'll probably retire and tell them to take over. It's your turn!" she said.

Delmore is wistful about their previous Shell Beach location, which offered more room for private events like weddings and birthdays. Delmore said she has had conversations with her sons about the future of the restaurant.

"I've said to them, 'Should we look for a new location? Should we call it quits? Should we try and sell, and a get a little bit of money for the recipes and equipment?'" she said. "Ryan said, 'Mom, it's up to you. It was your dream, and you did beautifully with it.'"

Now, Del's is preparing for a ribbon cutting by the Chamber of Commerce on March 11. The family has invited past employees and regular customers who have supported the restaurant throughout the years to join the celebration. For Delmore, even if she's unsure of what comes next for her, she's certain that Del's legacy will live on one way or another.

"How much longer I'll keep going, personally, depends on my health, and so far, so good. I'm hoping that the boys will come together when I do decide I'll retire," she said. "But I don't see Del's going away. This is my imprint on Pismo Beach, California." Δ

Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal is daydreaming about Del's bread rolls. Snap her out of it at [email protected].

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