Did you know one of New England’s most popular pizza chains actually originated here in Boston? Papa Gino’s, originally a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria known as Piece O’Pizza, was founded in 1954 in East Boston by Italian immigrant Michael Valerio.

A Korean War veteran, Valerio was born in 1930 in the small Italian town of Villa Latina and emigrated to Eastie at age five. Once he returned from war, he used his service earnings to start the Papa Gino’s franchise. Due to its limited capacity, the original store served only pizza, grilled sandwiches, and ice cream through a takeout window on Bennington Street.

Workers from the original Papa Gino’s restaurant

The business grew quickly from its original iteration, and Valerio and his wife Helen soon opened stores across the Boston area, from Canton to Cambridge. By the eighties, Papa Gino’s spread to shopping malls in New England, New York, and Florida, employing over 7,000 people across 300+ stores at the height of its success.

Unfortunately, the economic difficulties of the early nineties took a toll on the company, forcing Valerio to sell the chain to a group of investors in 1991. By 1996, over 100 shops had closed, and the franchise changed hands twice more. Papa Gino’s continued to struggle throughout the 2000s— even as it made brand deals with the Red Sox and the Patriots—and finally filed for bankruptcy in 2018.

Acquired by Wynnchurch Capital days later, the chain swiftly emerged from bankruptcy and began opening restaurants once again in June 2022. Today, 79 Papa Gino’s locations still exist across New England.

Valerio, meanwhile, passed away in his home at 89 in September 2020, survived by his wife, children, and grandchildren.

Main image – Mike & Helen Valerio, original founders of Papa Gino’s 1961


  1. Dennis M Conway April 17, 2024 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    I remember the Papa Gino’s on Old Colony, next to dirty Johns before Preble St.
    love that place.

  2. Jim Foster April 19, 2024 at 11:47 am - Reply

    Wonderful family, we painted and installed wallcovering and beautiful hand painted murals in many of their restaurants. Murals were painted by Nate Cradenza, great memories.

  3. Irene Ascolillo April 19, 2024 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    I love papa Gino’s I’m from East Boston and we know GOOD pizza. We since moved to Methuen and my husband and I still frequent the Papa Gino’s in Salem NH we enjoy of course the pizza, meatball subs and my favorite hot veggie pocket.

  4. Lisa McLellan April 20, 2024 at 1:26 pm - Reply

    my father, Anthony Rinaldi. was asked to be his partner and declined because he had a steady job with Melotone vendor company in Somerville and pizza place (“make it or break it” ). He serviced all of the Papa Gino’s through Melotone , installed every wall box and speaker system. Mike Valerio had a Papa Gino’s honor venue that I attended and my father got a gold Papa Gino’s ring with 3 diamonds. Best day off from High School ever.

  5. John Magnifico April 22, 2024 at 7:15 pm - Reply

    My Dad told me this many years ago. I thought he was mistaken. I guess he wasn’t. ( He was a Mailman in Eastie for over 30 years.

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