Upon entering this nearly 100-year-old building, you take in the sights and smells of Papa Del’s Pizza Factory. The walls are painted a cheesy-yellow mixed with deep tomato red, creating the perfect mixture of color. The metal fireplace holding miniature pizza slice cutouts warms the space as much as the ovens in the back. Bob Monti, the owner, wanted Papa Del’s to feel like a factory, paying homage to what space was originally built for. In 1938, a Coca Cola distributor constructed the building in the Art Deco style, with intricate wheat carvings on the outside hearkening to the plains of Illinois. As soon as Bob saw this building listed for sale, he knew he needed to move his pizza restaurant from its existing location on Green street to the current location. Bob has pizza in his blood–his father owned a pizza restaurant, where Bob worked until he came to school at the University of Illinois. Bob graduated with a degree in Education, but decided his “Italian temperament” would make that lifestyle difficult. So on October 24, 1970, he and his fraternity brothers opened a pizza place.
Bob’s fraternity brothers played a big role in Papa Del’s inception. They called him “Del Monte” after the line of canned food, and started calling him “Pops” because Bob was at U of I for six years getting his degree, so he was an “old man” to them. When Papa Del’s first opened, “It was a mess; we had standing room only that first night we were open,” he said. After the unexpected turnout, Papa Del’s became one of Champaign-Urbana’s favorite pizza places and is now cemented in local history.
Not only does Bob make great pizza, he makes it fresh from scratch. He and his family buy the ingredients to make their own fresh dough every two hours, and nothing is canned except tomatoes. They also support local farmers and brewers, and have every local beer on draft. Papa Del’s orders around eighty cases of mozzarella cheese per week, which at forty seven pounds per case comes out to two tons of mozzarella cheese every week.
Papa Del’s is more than great pizza, it is a family working together to provide their community with something they love. For those no longer in the area, they added a delivery service that ships pizza anywhere in the United States. Papa Del’s makes the pizza fresh, then freezes it and ships it with dry ice anywhere you want. “They miss me,” Bob says, “and they tell me when they call asking for pizza.” He only takes vacations to travel to Italy with his family. He also loves the Fighting Illini and hosts events for them in their event space. He loves working here and will continue “until [he] can’t walk anymore.”