June 18, 2019

Behind The Scenes With Tony’s Troubleshooter: Mario Acevedo

by Joe Bonadio

There are a lot of good things one can say about Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, but like most successful businesses, Tony’s is essentially a reflection of the people behind it. And after nearly thirty years in the business, there’s one thing that Tony Gemignani understands: the need to have the right team backing you up.

Starting Tony’s was an exciting challenge, and a grueling learning experience for Tony and everyone involved. Though he had run Castro Valley’s Pyzano’s with his brother Frank since starting in the business as a teenager, Tony’s would be a completely different animal. From the beginning, what Tony was trying to do was a stark departure from the traditional pizzeria. There was no playbook, and the chef was going to need all the help he could get to execute his concept.

One of the first people that Tony hired was Mario Acevedo, the Operations Manager at Tony’s for closing on a decade. Mario is the nuts-and-bolts ops guy behind Tony’s, the man who knows everyone and can fix everything. I recently sat down with him to talk about his start at Tony’s, and his critical role at San Francisco’s favorite pizzeria.

Joe Bonadio: Tell me how you met Tony.

Mario Acevedo: Ten years ago, I used to work in Fisherman’s Wharf at Joes’ Crab Shack. I lived here in North Beach, and I would walk by this corner [Stockton and Union] on the way to work. I saw the guys working on the place, and I got a chance to talk with the Brazilian contractor on the job. He told me they needed people.

I went back, and had the chance to talk to Tony twice. I originally was asking about working as a bartender, but he told me they already had their bar shifts covered.

So I said, ‘Well, I can do anything else.’

Did he hire you that day?

Not that day. A few days after they opened I stopped in on the way to work, and met with his former partner, Bruno. He asked me what I could do, and I told him anything: front of house, server, bartender, busser.

And they wouldn’t let me go. Bruno said to me: ‘Please don’t go. We need you.’

I told them I couldn’t stay right then, but could be back at 3:00. They said okay, and I was back at the restaurant by 2:30.

Were you serving, initially?

No, bussing tables. When I asked them what the system was, they just told me to pay attention and learn as I went along. Everything was new. Whatever I learned, and what I had learned at other places, that was the knowledge I applied.

And two days later, they handed me a set of keys. I said ‘What is this?’ They said ‘It’s the keys to the restaurant.’

Two days after you started?

Yes. That’s one thing that I really appreciated: that they wanted me to be somebody important in the company.

You made a big impression on them.

And I took that as a big responsibility, and I’ve been taking care of everything since that day. It made me feel like: I’m part of this.

So your responsibilities quickly changed.

Yes. I was in charge of bringing in people, front of the house, back of the house. Recruiting, and training. And I try to bring in only good people, people who will stay with the company. There are people who were hired in the first few months who are still with us.

Tony has been working for a long time, and he’s sacrificed a lot to get Tony’s to this point. To me, 70% of the servers’ job is done for them; they just have to do the rest. Read the people, try to see what they’re like, and make sure they are comfortable and happy.

…And make them come back.

Well, they definitely come back!

Yes. After ten years, I still see customers at Tony’s who I’ve known since the beginning.

Marios Favorite Bucatini

The Bucatini, Mario’s favorite pasta dish at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. | Photo: Sarah Inloes

I’ve got to ask, what’s your favorite dish at Tony’s?

I love the pasta, especially the Bucatini.* And for pizza, I love the Barcelona.**

I’ve got to try those. To you, what’s the most special thing about Tony’s?

You know, Tony’s brings happiness to a lot of people. The people that work there are happy; there aren’t a lot of places where you can work as much as you want, and do that much.

I’ve worked for a lot of companies that might give you two, three days on the schedule. Because they don’t care about you. Tony gives you the chance to work consistently, and have some stability. My wife and my son are both attorneys now, and I have Tony to thank for that.

That’s one thing I’ve learned, Tony takes care of his people.

Yes, and it was hard for me to understand in the very beginning. But now I see Tony as more than a boss. I see him as a friend….really, as family.


And the feeling is evidently mutual. When I asked Tony about Mario and his contribution to the chef’s flagship, the restaurateur didn’t mince words: “Without Mario, there is no way Tony’s would be the restaurant it is today.”


*A spicy pork ragu cream sauce with calabrese peppers and ground beef, served with a calabrese sausage link, pecorino & parsley

**Topped with mozzarella, smoked paprika, chorizo, tomato cream sauce, prosciutto, manchego cheese, nora peppers & scrambled farm egg