Celebrating 40 Years on Hilton Head

In a world that is constantly changing, it is Giuseppi’s steadfast values and unwavering commitment to food, freshness, and family that have kept Islanders and Island guests alike coming back for more after forty years.

What started out with humble beginnings as a pizza obsession among good friends, Giuseppi’s has since risen to become an Island institution. Theirs is an inspiring story of dedication, hard work, perseverance, and dreaming big, ultimately turning their pie in the sky idea of bringing THE best pizza to Hilton Head Island into a reality.

Well over four decades ago, high school and college friends Steve Carb and Tony Arcuri were more than just diehard pizza aficionados; they single handedly ate their way through Pittsburgh’s finest pizza establishments. Little did they know then, it was an early crash course in Pizza 101, and that very knowledge would later help fuel the success of their very own restaurant, Giuseppi’s, and ultimately serve as the catalyst for the pair to create The SERG Restaurant Group.

In 1984, with the help of partner Rick Meccariello, Giuseppi’s first opened its doors on Hilton Head Island and never looked back. Fellow college roommate and trusted friend Jim Loniero was brought in as a partner soon after the company began. Between Tony and Jim’s Italian heritage which taught them a love of food and the importance of using only the finest of ingredients, and Steve’s inherent business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit, theirs was a friendship and, ultimately, business partnership made in Heaven, one where tradition meets innovation.

In an industry where some restaurants don’t make it through their first year and many don’t survive their fifth year, Giuseppi’s continues to defy those odds a whopping forty years later as a beloved family-friendly Island tradition for both locals and visitors, with two locations in the Lowcountry (Hilton Head Island and Bluffton).

Although they faced competition early on with other pizzerias already inhabiting the Island, Giuseppi’s quickly carved out a name for themselves with their signature Pittsburgh style pizza, with its medium sized crust handcrafted from dough made daily from scratch. Fans of New York style pizza need not be dismayed–Giuseppi’s has all pizza lovers covered, offering a thinner crust version, as well as a cauliflower crust, literally serving up traditional and modern pizza styles for every possible taste.

Sauce runs through the founders’ veins, and it shows in every single pie or dish that comes out of Giuseppi’s ovens, all painstakingly crafted with love. In fact, if pizza is a love language, these guys are fluent in it. As Tony says, “There’s just something about pizza. It’s a universal food that everybody loves.”

“I still get excited when someone pulls a pizza out of the oven, and it’s just perfect, a great pie,” says Jim. “I do it every time, I just get so excited about it.“ “I take pictures,” adds Tony, as he types p-i-z-z-a into the search mode of his phone. “3,529 pictures,” he confirms with a laugh. The very same dough that Giuseppi’s is famous for is also used as the base for their fan favorite Weggie sandwiches, which Tony created on the spot one night in response to Steve’s challenge to create something new for the menu.

“Steve said, ‘Why don’t you invent something new?’”, says Tony. “Having just finished courses at the American Institute of Baking, I was up for the challenge. Thirty minutes later, I brought the Weggie out. Steve tried it, and goes, ‘Man, this is incredible.’ It’s actually our best selling sandwich now. I made it on the fly, and it’s a sandwich made with our pizza dough, so it’s literally the freshest sandwich you can get anywhere because you order it and we actually bake the bread and the ingredients together. Where else can you order a baked sandwich to go that’s that fresh?” There’s even a Veggie Weggie on the menu, proving once again that Giuseppi’s has something for everyone.

It’s not just the fresh dough that stands out, or their signature pizza sauce–which Tony carefully perfected over the years to include the perfect blend of secret spices–but Giuseppi’s use of the finest ingredients available in each and every dish, something the founders will not compromise on. “Everybody says they use the best ingredients,” says Tony, “but we actually do.”

Another of Giuseppi’s biggest secrets to success can be attributed to the people working there. “A bunch of great things have to happen to make the best pizza,” says Tony. “One of those things is the ingredients, and one of those things is the care of putting those ingredients together.” Jim adds, “The staff is paramount to having a great product.”

Such is the case with Giuseppi’s Bluffton location, which opened its doors twenty-one years ago, and is run by Tony’s sister and partners, Lori Taylor, and her husband, Jamie. Second only to Tony, Jamie is the longest tenured staff member, having started with Giuseppi’s back in 1987. And there is no shortage of other long standing employees who may have started out as a server, such as Jill Shrecengost, who went on to become a managing partner, or Jason Galizia, who began as a kitchen manager and grew into his role as executive chef and partner.

It’s this very foundation of investing in their employees that has not only kept Giuseppi’s on the map for forty years and counting, but has served as one of the core foundations of The SERG Group, the company that Steve and Tony founded, which was born out of Giuseppi’s success. It’s a business model not seen very often in the food and beverage world, but one The SERG Group thrives on–giving staff members who show drive and initiative the opportunity to have a stake in the business.

“I think that’s something that’s really led to SERG’s success because people know now…if they put in the work and they prove themselves, there’s a good chance they might get a stake in ownership, and I think that motivates a lot of people who work with us,” says Jim. “It’s definitely a career path, and it’s a sense of pride. Now they can say, ‘I’m a part owner of Giuseppi’s Pizza & Pasta House.’ If the business profits, they profit, and that’s the motivating factor right there.”

Commonplace in the restaurant industry? NO. Typical of Giuseppi’s? YES. And that is one of the reasons this place is so special.

Equally as important are the customers, and it’s the care paid to the patrons that has been instrumental in making Giuseppi’s such a neighborhood staple for the past forty years. Whether guests are diehard Pittsburgh fans searching for a slice of home and a place to watch the game, members of the local Happy Hour crew, or visitors looking for the best pizza and pasta on the Island, one thing is for sure–customers may arrive as strangers, but they are certain to leave as family, and the founders wouldn’t want it any other way.

“Forty years is a long time, especially in an environment as competitive as this one,” says Jim. “One thing people probably think is, to this day, Giuseppi’s is a place where they can bring their families. I’ve seen customers bring their kids in car seats in the restaurant, and then fifteen, sixteen years later, they’re working with us.” It’s this exact multi-generational impact on the local community that has charmed residents into calling Giuseppi’s their home away from home.

“We also have a soft spot in our heart for the military, for police, fire, all those,” Jim continues. “We always take exceptionally good care of them when they come into the restaurant. If police officers come in at 7:30 PM on a Saturday night in July where there’s an hour and forty-five minute wait, they get a table in two minutes and we get them seated right away.”

Locals have long admired Giuseppi’s and The SERG Group’s commitment to give back to the communities in which they serve. Whether it’s offering incentives to students who score good grades, inspiring young adults to read over Summer vacation, furnishing underprivileged children with holiday gifts, or raising and donating hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to now over 40 local charities and organizations through its Community Strong program, community outreach is deeply imbedded in The SERG Group’s philosophy, once again driving the importance of family home.

From Giuseppi’s fabled beginnings of pink paint, green grasscloth walls, and blue carpeting forty years ago, to the more modern day Giuseppi’s that Islanders and tourists have come to love, changes may have been made over the years to the menu and aesthetic, but the core values have always remained the same–food, freshness, and family.

Four decades have passed since the restaurant began as a small pizzeria, and yet still, no visit to Hilton Head Island is complete without a stop at Giuseppi’s to sample the culinary perfection they’ve crafted one slice at a time. Since it’s rise to becoming one of the top producing pizza restaurants in all of the Southeast, this renowned neighborhood establishment may receive visits from celebrities and sports figures from time to time, but it’s their everyday customers, trusted staff, and local community that give Giuseppi’s its ambience and reason for existence.

“For Tony and I, what matters the most to us is probably the memories, and also all the people that we’ve met along the way, and the incredible amount of employees that were so instrumental in getting this restaurant and business to where it needs to be,” says Jim.

“Forty years from now,” he continues, “I just hope when that day comes, when we have to do the handoff, that the people running with the ball have the same eye for detail that Tony and I have, the same level of care that Tony and I have, and the desire to connect with their customers and staff the way that we do. If you can do that, then you’re going to be fine.”

Fine indeed. If this past forty years serves as any indication of the sense of food, freshness, and family Giuseppi’s has continued to evolve with, and the community-based business model it birthed in The SERG Group, then future generations will certainly be enjoying it forty years from now. And that is the stuff legends are made of…

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