Damiano Mr. Pizza
The last remaining outlet of Damiano Mr. Pizza closed unexpectedly at the end of May. Mitchell Kitay, the owner, told the press that he was forced out by the owners of the restaurant Animal, which had purchased the building two years ago. Whatever the reason, suddenly there was no more Damiano Mr. Pizza.
To the best of my knowledge, there were once three…this one, on Fairfax across from Canter’s; another one on Robertson two blocks south of Pico and the one I first visited, which was on Pico near Westwood. It was in a corner building that had previously been the original location of Junior’s Delicatessen and is now a Maria’s Italian Kitchen. The places were known variously as Damiano’s, Mr. Pizza and Damiano’s Mr. Pizza. I’d always assumed someone named Damiano bought a pizzeria that was already named Mr. Pizza and just tacked his name on the way a woman named Ruth bought the Chris Steak House and added her name to it. But that was just speculation. I don’t know if Mr. Kitay was the founder but perhaps someone who posts in the comments section will.
What I do know is that Damiano offered the closest thing to “New York Italian” I ever found in Los Angeles. The pizza was good — a bit greasy and a bit salty but quite tasty. Even better were the pasta dishes, especially anything with their slow-cooked meat sauce on it. I frequented all three outlets before the first two closed.
The one on Fairfax opened in ’64 and quickly became an institution in the area. It stayed open (and delivered!) until 6 AM…7 AM on weekends, which came in handy at times. In addition to great Italian food and beverages, the delivery guys could also bring you cigarettes…and one of their delivery guys told me once that at 5 AM, it was not unusual for someone to call up for a few cartons of Marlboro’s and then say, “While you’re at it, have him bring a pizza too.” Most of the delivery folks seemed like homeless people with cars and one friend of mine used to tip them extra to stop at the CVS Pharmacy and bring medicines or candy, as well. It was the one place at that hour you could phone and get someone to do that kind of thing for you.
I often got deliveries from Damiano Mr. Pizza but around 1990, I stopped actually going into the restaurant. It was just too dilapidated, crowded and a little dirty. I assume they fixed it up after that — they would have had to — but the shabby surroundings diminished my love of their chow. It was though fun to watch the one guy on the phone juggling ten orders at once, hopping from one call on hold to another. There was one period there where I stopped ordering from them because the orders were always incorrect when they arrived…but after a year or so, I finally missed their food enough to give them another try and the first and all subsequent orders were right. You can imagine how much I’m going to miss them now. Mr. Kitay says he hopes to reopen in another location and I hope he does…but I’ll still miss the place on Fairfax. Even after I stopped setting foot inside, I was glad it was there…and delivering.