Rocky DePiro knew it was time.
DePiro, 68, longtime owner of Pal-Mino’s Italian Village, closed the business doors Saturday and headed into retirement.
“This is Pal-Mino’s 65th year and my 45th year. It is time to retire,” DePiro said. He recently sold the business to 33 on MAC, which plans to open there sometime in early 2024.
DePiro knew from a young age that he wanted to work for the family business started in 1958 by his father, Rocco DePiro Sr., and uncle, Joseph DePiro.
“I knew this was what I was going to do. I started working here at the age of 12,” DePiro said. “It was the family business. Things were starting to take off, and I just wanted to be part of it.”
DePiro fondly remembers his father and uncle.
“They were two guys born of immigrant parents, raised during the Depression and served their country in World War II. They got hired by the railroad and were always getting laid off,” he said. “They had a great idea and a recipe and wanted to market it.”
The brothers started at 13th Avenue and 16th Street, borrowing $500 from their older brother Frank and opening the business.
Rocky became owner of Pal-Mino’s — named for his older sister Pauline — in 1978. The original location closed in 2015. The current location, 2206 Seventh Ave., originally New York Bakery, opened in 1982. Pal-Mino’s had a few other local locations over the years.
Pal-Mino’s became an Altoona institution, Mayor Matt Pacifico said.
“I always went there. Rocky and his family built a tremendous business over several decades, it is like an Altoona institution,” Pacifico said.
Pal-Mino’s became a gathering place after athletic events.
“Neil (Rudel) would bring people here after the Hall of Fame dinners, all of the celebrities and dignitaries,” DePiro said.
“I would always take Stan Savran over after the Hall of Fame dinners. Stan always liked talking to Rocky,” said longtime friend Ted Beam. “Once you got to know him, he didn’t forget you. He was not afraid to share his opinions. He was a very personable guy,”
“George Paterno was here. Lots of sports figures. Judge D. Brooks Smith used to be a regular,” DePiro said. “We have had nine attorneys who worked for us as their first job. We have had doctors and others who went on to be successful business people. We always enjoyed seeing them become successful.”
Pal-Mino’s offered a full menu, but its signature dish was its pizza, made with a special family recipe.
“It is a great tasting pizza sauce. Our sauce doesn’t give you heartburn. It has been around for 65 years, so it must be decent. We use no preservatives. We have never changed or deviated from the original sauce recipe or dough,” DePiro said. “Our dough recipe is simple … We make it fresh every day. … I never ate a chain pizza that can compare with a good independent.”
Pal-Mino’s customers became like family.
“A lot of our customers were friends, it is like a part of your family. It has been a great environment,” said Rocky’s wife and longtime business partner, Patty.
Tom Ardrey had been a customer for over 50 years.
“It had a great atmosphere. It was like the Cheers of Altoona, everybody knew everybody, a great family-oriented place. It was a comforting and safe place to go. It will be missed,” Ardrey said. “Rocky had a rough appearance, but he is a very nice soft guy at heart. He was always a caring person. Rocky has been a very good friend for years.”
Pal-Mino’s has had many longtime employees such as Donna Cooney, who served as manager for nearly 40 years, and Sylvia Foor, who worked at the business for more than 40 years.
“He was great to work for; that is why I stayed as long as I did,” Cooney said.
Despite his heavy workload, DePiro, a 1973 Altoona Area High School graduate and football player for legendary coach Earl Strohm, found time to give back through coaching.
He started coaching in the Altoona Parochial League when he was 21. He then moved on to help coach the Bishop Guilfoyle freshmen team. He was recommended by the late John Conlon, who had been a rival coach in the Parochial League.
“He called me. We weren’t the best of friends when coaching against each other … but he asked me to be the line coach,” DePiro said.
He then joined the staff at Altoona under coach Ed Dalton.
“My friend Tom Bussman referred me to Dalton. Without an application I was hired at Altoona. I was at Altoona from 1994 to 2003,” DePiro said. “We had some success. In 1997, we beat Moeller, it was an incredible night. This place was packed after the game.”
“He was an excellent coach, he took it very seriously and worked hard at coaching. Those kids were better off, they became better people and better players having been coached by him,” Bussman said.
Tom Palfey also got to know DePiro as a member of Dalton’s coaching staff.
“He was so intense. He was one of the best line coaches we ever had here. He coached multiple all-state linemen and we had multiple thousand-yard rushers,” Palfey said. “He is so loyal. He loves Altoona football and has tremendous pride in the program and the business started by his father.”
DePiro misses some aspects of coaching.
“I miss the games and competition. I liked the camaraderie of the coaches, but it takes a lot of time. I wasn’t home a lot between work and coaching. My wife did a great job raising our kids; they are so successful,” DePiro said.
It was a bittersweet decision to sell the family business.
“It was an emotional decision. We have so many wonderful memories here; we are leaving that behind us. We wanted to make sure it would be done right; we wanted to make the transition smooth,” Patty DePiro said.
“I saw dad worked so hard when he was still at the railroad and worked here at night. I didn’t want to let that legacy down. I think he would be proud,” Rocky DePiro said.
Pacifico is glad DePiro can go out on his own terms.
“He has been a solid business owner in the city of Altoona. …. He has been dedicated to serving the people of Altoona and Blair County, it is one of the places of which people have fond memories,” Pacifico said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.
The DePiro file
Name: Rocco “Rocky” DePiro Jr.
graduate of Altoona Area High School
Position: Owner of Pal-Mino’s Italian Village
Family: Wife, Patty; son, Rocco III; and daughter, Andrea; three grandchildren
Quote: “People called us the Cheers of Altoona, you would see people in the same seats.”