In 1952, Louie Macinanti opened Louie’s Pizza on Main Street in Woburn with no frills and his own rules. Just pizzas on the menu, served only one size, 14 inches. Brief hours, 4 to 7 p.m. If the daily-made dough runs out, close up shop.
Devout locals never seemed to mind, adjusting to the quirks; the quiet Louie’s made one of the best pies in the region. “We have customers that my grandfather will come down [from his apartment above the restaurant], look at a slip, and say, ‘[Shoot], he’s been coming in here for 50 years,’ ” says Macinanti’s grandson Derek, who took over the operation about 10 years ago after he graduated from college. “We actually still have a guy that comes in that claims he was the first customer. We make pizzas for people in New Hampshire that have moved from here a long time ago that want them half-cooked so they can reheat them.”
The restaurant’s patriarch inherited the dough recipe from his grandmother and has kept it a family secret, which is easy to do when the staff is family. Each morning, they make the dough, and regulars know to call far ahead to ensure there’s enough for their pie. The dough gives Louie’s an advantage over competitors with cheaper prices, Derek says. “My knowledge of a lot of places is they buy their dough,” he says. “Making it is a lengthy process. It doesn’t take too long, maybe 10 minutes for 40 different dough balls, but then they have to sit for two hours before we roll them. Then that dough has to sit for three to four hours before it can be used.”
Sure enough, the crust is delightful, well-cooked and chewy at once with sweet sauce and fresh toppings. The pies speed-cook for six minutes in a gas-brick oven set to 650 degrees. Slices aren’t overwhelming large, but they are satisfying. Two can you fill you up, meaning three or four people can typically share a pizza comfortably.
Louie’s originally had only eight toppings, but Derek, 33, and younger brother Randy, 29, have since expanded to 14, though very carefully. “There’s no fruit, there’s no Hawaiian, there’s no Buffalo chicken,” Derek says. “It’s very traditional.”
The original eight toppings are on Louie’s Special ($20), on the menu since opening day, a pie topped with pepperoni, sausage, salami, hamburg, linguica, green peppers, mushrooms, and onions. It’s the favorite of nearly everyone at our table, though Derek says his grandfather isn’t a fan, despite the fact that it bears his name. “The funny thing is, he doesn’t eat it, he doesn’t like it, but he named it the Louie’s Special and it’s awesome,” he says. “It’s not a huge seller because it has a ton of stuff on it, but anybody that knows pizza, likes pizza, would find it phenomenal.”
The other special is a relatively recent addition, tomato and basil pizza ($13.50), with fresh sliced tomatoes and herbs. It’s also quite good, especially with garlic (add $1.25). Every other pie is make-your-own. A plain cheese goes for $10.50, while a single topping pizza costs $11.25. Each additional topping is $1.25.
Derek and Randy Macinanti have changed very little about their grandfather’s operation. Louie’s now serves lunch most days but continues to close around “7 p.m.-ish.” “I think that’s what gets the people – the simplicity of no delivery, running out of dough, simple hours, one-size pizzas,” says Derek.
Reminders of yesteryear are everywhere. The 90 percent takeout place remains cash-only and the staff punches sales into an ancient cash register. There’s no alcohol, just cans and bottles of soda. Wood paneling and red-and-white checked tablecloths make the tiny, 12-seat room feel like an Italian restaurant set in an old crime movie. But perhaps the biggest reminder of Louie’s legacy is its namesake, Louie Macinanti, retired nearly 10 years ago, but still preparing dough.
“About four to five times a week he still makes the first batch,” Derek says. “He’s 83 but probably the youngest 83-year-old you’ll ever meet. It makes him feel good that he’s still a part of it.”