Dino’s Pizza Express occupies a slice of downtown Wilkes-Barre’s budding menu of eateries

i Feb 25th 2016

By Joe Dolinsky, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE — The art of the pizza pie runs in the Buonsante family.

In 1975, Gaetano Buonsante founded Dino’s Pizza, a staple of the Wyoming Valley Mall’s savory slate of eateries that still dishes out slice after slice over four decades later. The longevity wasn’t an accident. The formula for a perfect pie was honed by a young Buonsante years earlier when the Italian immigrant found work at a pizzeria in Manhattan, New York.

After moving to Pennsylvania, he took a job at a pizzeria at the mall until he was able to purchase the shop, which he later renamed Dino’s.

A pair of Gaetano’s children followed in his footsteps. Lenny Buonsante operates a sister restaurant in the mall and Dominic Buonsante opened Dino’s Pizza Express in downtown Wilkes-Barre’s Midtown Village on Jan. 25. The latter said he signed a lease that will keep the shop along South Main Street open for at least five years.

Dominic Buonsante, 40, said he learned everything from his father, for whom he started working at the age of 13. He attibuted the longtime success of the family franchise to a simple formula.

“We have a great product that comes from an old family recipe,” he said recently, pausing to remove a piping hot pie from inside one of the brick- and stone-laden shop’s ovens. “We listen to our customers and give them what they want.”

Buonsante, of Forty Fort, sought to establish an authentic Big Apple atmosphere in the shop’s interior, a roughly 1,000-square-foot space with wood accents and wall posters featuring classics of Italian film.

“I wanted to bring a New York City feel to downtown Wilkes-Barre,” he said.

That feel also played into the price of a slice. Buonsante said the cost — 99 cents for a cheese slice — is standard throughout New York City, whether a slice is sold on a street corner, food truck or inside a shop.

The shop’s “Slice Out Hunger” campaign lets customers purchase a cheese slice that will later be given to area shelters.

Since the pizzeria opened, customers have purchased over 300 slices for the campaign, Buonsante said. He said the shelters he contacted were “ecstatic” over the prospect of having pizza donated to them and some customers have come into the shop just to donate a slice, he said.

“Everyone’s happy,” he said. “They can’t believe I’m actually doing it.”

The pizzeria took over a space that was mostly vacant for a number of years — it was last used as offices for former state Gov. Tom Corbett — a sign that private business owners are seeking out locations in the downtown that likely would have been passed over years ago, said Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership.

“That’s a vote of confidence in the progress the downtown is making,” Newman said.

Newman said the pizzeria is run by owners who have long been a staple in the region and who have “invested their lives in their business.”

“You know when you’re getting your meal there, you’re getting it from the owners,” he said.

Buonsante said it’s too early to tell if the downtown will remain the permanent home of Dino’s Express.

“I hope it might be,” he said.