By John Lynds
With his humor, good nature and apron filled with buttons, gifts from the thousands of customers he has served from all across the globe, Tony Costanzo has been one of the most recognizable faces inside the famed Santarpio’s Pizza for decades.
For the past 33 years Costanzo has been serving up Santarpio’s famous pies with a smile and joke. and became one of the most beloved waiters at the 114 year old pizzeria.
However, it was an end of an era last Tuesday as Costanzo worked his last double shift and hung up his famed button-clad apron for good.
“I started working here, a couple of shifts a week, while I was working for John Hancock,” said Costanzo, who will turn 67 years old. “I worked at Hancock starting in 1968 but my department was sold to another company. After I was laid off, I came to Frank (Santarpio) and said I had to find another job. He said, “Why don’t you just work more shifts?’, and the rest is history.”
Costanzo’s family, fellow Santarpio’s waiters and Eastie’s elected officials joined Mayor Martin Walsh last week to honor Costanzo on what would be his last day of work, although some at Santarpio’s give him less than six months before he’s back.
“I remember Tony (Costanzo) going back to when I was 17 years old,” said Mayor Walsh. “He’s always been a character and over the years I’ve loved watching him interact with the customers..it’s really an end of era here at Santarpio’s. The way he approached his job and the way he always made people feel welcome was something that was admirable..even if they did try to order a salad.”
Costanzo, who was settling into his first week of retirement said Tuesday while he’s enjoying the relaxation it is a bit strange.
“I’m still in awe of last week, it was an incredible day for me,” said Costanzo. “It’s a little weird though. I’m having a hard time sleeping. I keep waking up thinking I’m missing something. But everyday is like Sunday without the pressure of having to go to work the next day.”
Through his 33 plus years at Santarpio’s, Costanzo has met numerous actors, sports legends and politicians and seen the place transform but retain it’s integrity of arguably the best pizza in Boston.
“When I started we had sawdust on the floor, there was grated cheese in gerber jars, the booth cushions were held together by duct tape and some waiters would serve your pizza with a cigarette hanging out of their mouths,” said Costanzo. “While the inside has been polished up, it still the basic menu and the pizza that has kept people coming back for generation. I think it’s the best pizza in the world.”
While the grittiness of Santarpio’s has changed, as well as the demographics of Eastie, Costanzo is just glad he was able to put a smile on customers’ faces year after year.
“Naturally I think what people come for is the pizza but it’s also the waiters, the atmosphere, the history,” he said. “Going to Santarpio’s is an experience and we all made sure people enjoyed themselves. I’d like to think I’d made people feel like they were at home.”
Costanzo, known for singing whatever song was on the jukebox, sitting with customers between serving pizzas to other tables and telling jokes became the hallmarks of his shifts at Santarpio’s.
“One of my first dates with my wife, Ariel, was to Santarpio’s when we were students at Tufts,” said Rep. Adrian Madaro. “Tony was out waiter and from that day on she was a fan of not only the pizza but of Tony as well.”
City Councilor Sal LaMattina added that he’s going to miss Costanzo’s larger than life personality.
“He was the best,” said LaMattina. “He was one of those guys that made coming to Santarpio’s fun.”
In the end, Costanzo said he feels at ease with his decision to retire.
“Thirty three years is a long time,” he said. “I’d like to think I made small difference in people’s lives. All I ever wanted in life was to be nice to people, put a smile on their face, and have them leave wanting to come back. So when I see a woman come in who I use to sing Frank Sinatra songs to when she was a kid now come in with her son and we reminisce I know I’ve made somewhat of an impact.”