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Grotto Pizza to consolidate production to Dover

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Grotto Pizza started production out of its Dover facility in late February. |PHOTO COURTESY GOSNEAR

DOVER — Grotto Pizza, the Rehoboth Beach-born pizza chain, is planning to consolidate its production facility in New Castle and in its Lewes restaurant to a new Kent County facility, moving 20 jobs to the heart of the state.

The sale for 122 Rosemary Road in southeast Dover was finalized Dec. 19, 2019, for $575,000, according to county land records. But Grotto Pizza Vice President Jeff Gosnear told the Delaware Business Times the total investment was between $1 and $2 million, including renovations and equipment.

Now that the Dover production facility is up and running, it gives the company the opportunity to ramp up to more than 2 million pounds of dough for all 23 locations in Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

“It’s a great opportunity to invest in cutting-edge technology as well as bringing in production in one spot with great access to Route 1 and U.S. Route 13,” Gosnear told DBT. “It’ll be just as easy to ship the dough to our restaurants in Rehoboth as it is in Columbia, Md.”

Dough will be distributed out of the Dover facility between five and six times a week.

Walking in the 9,600 square-foot facility is like walking in an oversized kitchen, with large mixers, racks to rest dough and walk-in coolers. Gosnear estimated that about 4,000 square feet was dedicated refrigerator space.

In addition, Grotto Pizza will use the Dover facility as a test kitchen for new recipes and a place to mix salad dressings and spinach topping for salads, calzones and other dishes.

Originally, Grotto Pizza divided production in a commissary at 144 Quigley Blvd. in New Castle and one at its Grand Slam restaurant at 17467 Shady Road in Lewes. Gosnear said the New Castle facility was already closed, and employees were either transferred to Dover, other restaurants or opted to find new employment. The Lewes production kitchen will stay open for now as backup for the resort Grotto locations.

“We’re so used to it, and it’s only 15 minutes away from lots of our locations down there. We’ll keep it for this summer, because we want to take this gradually,” Gosnear said.

Grotto Pizza is one of Rehoboth Beach’s iconic success stories, as it was founded by Dominick Pulieri in 1960 and has grown into a regional empire. The chain has about 800 year-round employees in its restaurants, offices and facilities, but in the summer can break over 1,800 in the summer.

“Our journey originated from humble beginnings … the new production facility in Dover will allow us to broaden the Grotto Pizza footprint in the area while strengthening our ability to create high-quality, consistent dough for our legendary pizza,” Pulieri said in a prepared statement.

Looking to the future, Grotto Pizza is working to open a Millsboro restaurant, as announced in January 2020, but the pandemic has delayed those plans. The company is looking to keep growing, but Gosnear hinted that may depend on how the debate over the state’s tipped wage goes in this year’s state legislature.

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