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In Dining

Wally Kutch prepares a pizza at the Vliet Street Caradaro Club. (PHOTO: Damien Jaques)

Keeping the tradition of Milwaukee's first pizzeria alive


In this, the summer of Milwaukee's first $100 pizza, it's appropriate to consider where this all started. By this, I mean where the first slice of pizza was served in Milwaukee, who made it and how it tasted.

For many of us, pizza is one of the basic food groups, and it is difficult to imagine the American diet without it. But 60 years ago there was no frozen pizza aisle in the supermarkets where your parents or grandparents shopped.

Pizza Hut, Papa John's and Nick-N-Willy's were concepts still to be conceived. Nobody had ever heard of pepperoni.

Milwaukee's first slice was served in 1945 in the Historic Third Ward. John Caravella and Joe Todaro combined their energy and last names to open the Caradaro Club on the ground floor of a three-story building that stood on the site of the present Catalano Square. It looked like a tavern, and the upper floors were a boarding house.

After 25 years, ownership passed to Consiglio Cirillo, and when fire destroyed the Caradaro Club in the '70s, he moved the business out of the Third Ward. Using the name and recipes, Cirillo operated Caradaro Clubs in Muskego and on 81st and National before settling into a small carry-out and delivery-only Italian restaurant at 1417 S. 70th St.

On a summer night in 2002, Wally Kutch, who had been eating Caradaro pizza since his parents took him to the Third Ward location as a kid, stopped at the 70th St. restaurant with his girlfriend to pick up a pie. A manufacturing engineer with a degree from MSOE, he owned his own plane and a business that built complicated tools and machinery for everyone from Toyota to the Defense Department. His company designed and manufactured Koepsell's popcorn wagons.

Cirillo told Kutch he wanted to retire and sell the pizza business. "I told him I would buy it," Kutch recently recalled. "He thought I was kidding."

By the time the engineer left with his pizza, negotiations on the sale had begun. An earnest money check soon followed, and Kutch went from designing and building 80-ft. industrial and infrared ovens to spending his nights sliding pies into and out of pizza ovens. He sold his airplane, dissolved his engineering and manufacturing business, and assumed the mission of keeping the Caradaro Club name and recipes alive.

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Talkbacks

Dick_Bacon | Aug. 26, 2011 at 3:24 p.m. (report)

Wayno, read the plaque at Catalano Square. Don't believe everything you find on Google.

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wayno | Aug. 16, 2011 at 7:48 a.m. (report)

swami: The reason that "details" need to be pointed out is... it makes one question whether anything else in the article is inaccurate. Besides, it's not like this was a difficult fact to verify. Using google, it took me all of 30 seconds to find a somewhat authoritative source.

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kinnickinnic | Aug. 16, 2011 at 12:48 a.m. (report)

I remember going to the Caradaro Club, and buying a pizza to go in the early 1950's on a cold winter night. My father and I took the Trolly car back to Bay View, and the pizza was frozen by the time we got home, so we had to reheat it. The next day I told my friends I had pizza for supper, and nobody knew what a pizza was!

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swami says | Aug. 15, 2011 at 4:50 p.m. (report)

Details, details! The author's use of Catalano Square gave me a reference point; who cares if it was 1/2 block one way or the other?! Maybe the square used to be a square instead of a triangle and maybe it was bigger back then...regardless you get an idea of where it was. SHEESH!

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wayno | Aug. 15, 2011 at 11:14 a.m. (report)

I believe that the information about the Caradaro Club having been located on the site of the present Catalano Square may be incorrect. According to a help-wanted ad in the Milwaukee Sentinel - Jul 21, 1972 (courtesy of Google News Archives) the address of the Caradaro Club was 326 E. Erie. This is approximately one half block east of Catalano Square. In addition, Broadway (street) used to extend through what is now Catalano Square.

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