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IT STARTED IN THE RUSSO FAMILY KITCHEN.

The son of first-generation Italian immigrants, Chef Anthony Russo grew up in a New Jersey home where the kitchen was the center of family life. There was always cooking and baking at home. And many of the ingredients came from the family garden. Just as his Grandpa and Nona Russo did back in Avellino, Italy.

These experiences stuck with young Anthony as his family to Galveston, Texas, in 1978. His father opened Russo's Italian Restaurant, which quickly became a local favorite. Just like that, Anthony found a second home in the restaurant kitchen. By the age of 12, he was learning family recipes from relatives who flew in from Naples and Sicily each summer. Making pizza and squachatta (calzones) became a passion.

THE ENTREPRENEUR EMERGES

After earning his Chef's distinction, Anthony opened his first pizza place at the young age of 18. Shortly after, he opened "Anthony's Pizzeria" in Clear Lake, Texas. A move to Houston brought "Café Anthony," then the upscale Italian restaurant "Russo Café Anthony." In 1992 Russo's New York Pizzeria opened, and proved a model for success.

Like his father, Chef Russo created a loyal, almost cult following. Nowhere else in Houston, could people find authentic New York-style pizza. The family recipe for hand-tossed dough, the sauce made from fresh-crushed California tomatoes, the imported Italian cheese blends, all of these little things made a big difference. Plus, Chef Russo was among the first in Houston to use a coal-fired brick oven. The bubbling of the crust, the flavors of a well-used oven, the preparation of pure ingredients — it was unrivaled, as is today.

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