Maria's Pizza on Milwaukee's southwest side closes June 26; a new owner might reopen it

·2 min read
Bonnie Crivello speaks with a customer Sunday at Maria's Pizza, 5025 W. Forest Home Ave. The founding family was closing the restaurant Sunday but in talks with a potential buyer to continue the operation.
Bonnie Crivello speaks with a customer Sunday at Maria's Pizza, 5025 W. Forest Home Ave. The founding family was closing the restaurant Sunday but in talks with a potential buyer to continue the operation.

The founding family of Maria's Pizza, one of Milwaukee's oldest continually operating pizzerias, marked its last day at the restaurant June 26 amid a line of customers and the phone ringing off the hook with orders.

But the owner indicated the closing might be temporary, as the family is in talks with a buyer.

"It's time for us to take a breath," Bonnie Crivello said by phone. She owns it with her niece Maria Story.

"We have a lot of nice customers. We love them and everything else, but right now we want to rest," she said, as phones rang nonstop in the background.

The restaurant's dining room has been closed for the entirety of the pandemic; Maria's has been open for takeout only, at reduced hours. As at many other businesses in the pandemic, finding workers has been a challenge, according to Crivello.

"It’s hard getting to people work for you," she said. "It’s too much."

Customers wait in line Sunday, hoping to score a Maria's pizza before the founding family closed the southwest side restaurant. A new buyer might take over the business, the daughter of the founder said.
Customers wait in line Sunday, hoping to score a Maria's pizza before the founding family closed the southwest side restaurant. A new buyer might take over the business, the daughter of the founder said.

Crivello indicated a potential buyer for the restaurant and its recipes is in the wings, so Maria's might be closed only temporarily.

"We want somebody who knows how to do it," she said.

Crivello is the daughter of founder Maria Traxel, who opened the restaurant in 1957 on Seventh Street near Greenfield Avenue. Story was born the same year the restaurant opened; her mother, Mickey Story, operated the restaurant with Crivello until Mickey Story's passing in 2006.

Maria's moved to Forest Home in 1971, taking its brick ovens and paint-by-number religious art with it. It also continued its no-alcohol and cash-only policies on the southwest side.

Maria's, known for its quirky decor, has had a devoted following for its rectangular, cracker-crust pizza. In the pandemic, it served an abbreviated menu of only pizzas and appetizers because of the staffing crunch.

The large pizza from Maria's Pizza on Milwaukee's southwest side is indeed large, clocking in at 18 by 14 inches.
The large pizza from Maria's Pizza on Milwaukee's southwest side is indeed large, clocking in at 18 by 14 inches.

In the deluge of customers on Sunday, its last day, Maria's Pizza ran out of dough and cheese around 6 p.m., about two hours ahead of its closing time. This, in spite of the handwritten sign on a cardboard pizza round that limited customers to two pizzas each. The restaurant also sold out of its T-shirts, as customers apparently wanted a souvenir that would last longer than dinner.

"We did very, very well" over the years, Crivello said. "We just want to rest now."

Related: These Milwaukee-area pizzerias have been around longer than the Super Bowl

Related: Milwaukee-area restaurants that permanently closed in 2022

Contact Carol at carol.deptolla@jrn.com or (414) 224-2841, or through the Journal Sentinel Food & Home page on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter at @mkediner or Instagram at @mke_diner.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Maria's Pizza on Milwaukee's southwest side closes June 26