Antimo (Tony) Zampella, the heart and soul of Tony's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria, had a remarkable journey from the farmlands and small villages of old Southern Italy to the bustling streets of San Diego. Born in 1928 in Mussolini's fascist Italy, Tony grew up during the turmoil of World War II, facing poverty and the struggle for survival in a war-ravaged country. These challenging conditions instilled in him a determined work ethic and a relentless drive to control his own destiny.
Tony's path to America began when he enlisted in the Italian Navy at the age of 18, where he served as a cook. After visiting Bremerton and San Diego while in the Italian Navy, his eyes were open to the world beyond his village and fueled his desire to make it to America, the land of opportunity. After leaving the Navy, Tony made his way back to San Diego and eventually to Bremerton.
In 1957, Tony's first wife, Irene, set him up in business, supporting his learning curve as the owner of the Mona Lisa in San Diego's Little Italy area. After selling Mona Lisa, he founded Tony's Corner Café in San Diego in 1957. However, in 1961, Tony closed down Tony's Corner Café and moved to Temple City, a small suburb of Los Angeles. It was there that he found a liquor store with a coal pizza oven in the back. Tony transformed the store into his own corner of deliciousness by twirling pizza dough into profits.
In 1962, Tony married his second wife, Priscilla Pellegrino, and they had two children, Anthony (Tony Jr.) Zampella. and Rosa Zampella. It was during this period that Tony became known as "Tony Filippi" due to his association with Vincent DePhilippis and his wife, Madeleine Stefani. The DePhilippis had come to America in 1922 and opened Filippi's Cash and Carry, a deli grocery, in San Diego's Little Italy in 1950. This marked the beginning of a successful line of family restaurants, known as Filippi's Pizza Grottos, which are still owned and operated by the DePhillippis family members today.
Tony joined the DePhilippis family in 1965 when he started working for their established business in San Diego. He quickly formed a strong bond with Vincent and Madeleine, with Madeleine becoming a trusted guide and a beloved mother figure whom he affectionately called "Mama Filippi". Tony found in Mama Filippi more than just an employer; he found a role model who believed in him.
By 1966, Mama Filippi shared with Tony her concerns about her son Richard's “Filippi’s Pizza” business in Bremerton, Washington. Richard's legendary out of town ventures had an effect on operations and Mama Filippi needed someone dependable to help manage the restaurant. At the age of 37, Tony seized the opportunity and moved his family to Bremerton, where he turned the struggling eatery into a booming business with his work ethic, Italian accent, and mouthwatering homemade fare. This was the same year Richard had moved the restaurant from downtown Bremerton to the current location on Kitsap Way.
Recognizing Tony's dedication and entrepreneurial spirit, Richard made him a business partner within the first year and entrusted him with managing the restaurant during its regular operating hours. Tony's drive to succeed and save up money led him to go above and beyond by extending the restaurant's hours. Understanding the needs of the local Navy and shipyard workers, Tony kept the restaurant open until 10 pm, midnight, and sometimes even later, offering a tantalizing menu of pizza, pasta, and beer.
By 1968, Tony had not only built a thriving business but also managed to save up enough money to tender a cash offer to Richard and Mama Filippi, securing his full ownership of the restaurant and the right to use the name “Tony Filippi”. For three decades, Tony Zampella actively engaged with his customers often welcoming guests wearing his infamous red and white checkered shirt. He became an integral part of the community, embodying the spirit of hospitality and warmth that made the restaurant a cherished gathering place. The sign outside proudly displayed the name Tony’s Filippi's Pizza until 1996 when Tony sold the business to Mike Malane, and his wife, Tami Malane.
Tony's legacy continued as Mike took the reins of the restaurant. Mike had arrived in Bremerton in 1980 and had begun a longstanding friendship with Tony. Having learned the recipes, traditions, and preparations, from working at Tony’s Filippi’s prior to purchasing the restaurant, Mike was committed to preserving the artisan nature of the business and honoring the traditions that Tony brought over from Naples. For nearly 25 years, Mike nurtured Tony's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria, upholding its rich history.
In October 2019, the ownership of Tony's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria underwent a change as Kevin Cook, and his wife, Leah Cook, took over the business. Despite the challenging times brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, Kevin and Leah managed to navigate through the uncertainties, improvising to keep the business going. However, after two years, they made the difficult decision to sell the restaurant and relocate back to Las Vegas.
On April 1, 2022, the baton was passed to the current owner, Lorraine Viers, and her husband Gary Viers. With an extensive background of 20-30 years in the restaurant industry and leading various organizations in Kitsap and Pierce Counties, Lorraine brought a wealth of experience to the table. Strengthened by the long-time General Manager/Chef, David Scott, and Peggy Davis, a devoted Server/Dining Room Supervisor for over 45 years, as well as the rest of the dedicated, hard working restaurant staff, Lorraine operates the restaurant with a renewed interest for reestablishing Tony's original recipes, maintaining the highest quality of food, and supporting a family-friendly atmosphere. Her top priority is fostering a customer focus and an authentic "homemade" experience, with dishes crafted from scratch.
For close to 60 years, Tony's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria has been the go-to place for Kitsap residents to celebrate various occasions, from first dates and anniversaries to birthday parties and large gatherings. The establishment holds a special place in the hearts of thousands of loyal fans and friends. It is not just the exceptional food and inviting ambiance that make Tony's unique; it is the enduring legacy of its iconic Italian owner, Tony Zampella. Even after his passing, Tony's spirit continues to evoke nostalgia and warm memories among local customers.