They're separated by a few miles, but they're worlds apart. Three Italian restaurants on Duke Street stand the test of time as they collectively celebrate more than 60 years in business. At 3006 Duke St., Generous George's® Positive Pizza & Pasta Place Inc., owned by hometown boy George Mansy, recently celebrated 25 years of business. La Casa Pizza Family Restaurant, located at 4529 Duke St., has been owned by Gus and Diane Monis, who came here from Greece 25 years ago and started their business. Down the road at 1724 Duke St., Zach Driouche from Morocco has run Paesano Italian Deli & Restaurant for more than 10 years. They all have their own distinctive flair and have proved that they do much more than make pizza.
When George Mansy was growing up on Duke Street, it was a two-lane paved dirt and gravel road. He lived on the upper floor of a house that existed to the left of where Generous George's is now located (where the Shell Oil station now sits). His parents ran a grocery store on the lower level, Uncle Vick's Market. When the owners decided to convert the house back to residential space, the Mansys moved next door and ran their grocery store from the space that occupies the right-hand space of Generous George's (where the entrance and pizza-ordering counter are).
The Mansys eventually moved to Foster Avenue and opened a pizza business in Springfield, but they kept ownership of the property on Duke Street. Over the years it would see many ventures but wouldn't be back under family management until 1977, when George took it over and turned it into a restaurant. Before that he worked at Il Porto Ristorante as a waiter, where he came under the watchful eye of Nick Latsios, "The Golden Greek."
"He was my mentor — he convinced me to buy my father's place," said George, who has a plaque at the restaurant dedicated to Latsios, a former boxer and entrepreneur, who has since passed away.
George's restaurant was originally called the “Yellow Deli Belly Buster” and occupied just that one building on the right, where his family's market had been. George credits the name change to Nick, who came into the restaurant one day and said, "George, this is the biggest pizza I have ever seen, you are so generous. You should rename it."
And so he did.
In 1987, George took over the adjacent building and opened the pasta section. About 10 years ago, he started opening other restaurants in Annandale, Springfield and Hayfield. They have all since been sold. George said that it was too hard to get help, and they took away from his focus on the main store.
Over the years, George said that he's fed the last five mayors of the City of Alexandria. He has also donated to numerous charities. He said that he tries to do a little bit for everybody but that his No. 1 charity is the Meade Memorial Episcopal Church. He met Anice Wilson several years ago and said, "I was so touched by that church." Since then he said, "I do anything I can to support that church."
Having been in business for so long, George enjoys seeing customers who started coming in when they were children now coming back with their husbands and children. Many of his former employees also come back in with their families. When George's sister, Theresa Cook, worked there, many of the TC Williams students came in. "She was the strength of the dining room," said George.
Although he has 14 nieces and nephews that he enjoys, George himself has never married, but he said that he's still looking and would like to have a family.
Business for Generous George's has seen some changes since Sept. 11. George said that he lost some customers and gained some. While some people may not go out as much, others that would normally go to D.C. are staying closer to home. The biggest change is that business is "so unpredictable." Whereas he used to be able to predict business for a season or time period within 10 percent, now it's just too hard to know what will happen.
Generous George's is located 3006 Duke St. It can be reached at 703-866-7199.
La Casa Pizza
Twenty years ago, Carra Johnson Callies was in a taxi cab on her way home to Annandale. The taxicab driver asked if Callies would mind if she stopped to pick up her lunch at La Casa Pizza Family Restaurant. Callies complied and received the best tip of her life. Moving here from Montana six months before, she wanted to know where she could get a good steak; she was surprised when the cab driver suggested La Casa
"I went in there, and the steak was great. I've branched out since then and tried other things. It's impossible to get anything bad there. It's such a wonderful place — they are so nice," said Callies.
She also likes the salads and said, "You'll never see a piece of lettuce with brown on it here. They have good food at reasonable prices — it can't be beat."
Regular customers like Callies know that La Casa is much more than a pizza place. Victor Liberi has been eating at La Casa for the past six years. He lives and works in Alexandria and said, "I like everything, and I like the fact this in this busy metro area, it feels like family."
Liberi, who's an athletic trainer with St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School, is from Philadelphia and said that this reminds him of the delis up there. He's had everything on the menu and comes in with his wife at night or brings in co-workers during the day.
Several workers from across the street also take advantage of the good food nearby. Zonette Burgess, Hal Smith, Peter Gratton and Bob Jones frequently come to La Casa for lunch. They all said that the La Casa salad was the favorite of choice, and Gratton said that he likes the pizza.
Diane Monis, who runs the place with her husband, Gus Monis, came to the United States from Greece in 1972. She said that everything is made from scratch and that she still loves eating pizza. Along with the salads, the gyro dinners are popular, and Monis said, "People love our lasagna."
Many officers from the City of Alexandria police force frequent Monis' place, and she said that she appreciates all the police officers who come in. Sept. 11 impacted their business for a short time, but Monis said that within two or three months, they were back to their regular business. What impacted them more was the closing of Cameron Run military base, whose employees were frequent customers. Since then, however, they are starting to get many of the people who have moved into the new homes as customers.
Since customers seem to like what they have, the Monises haven't changed much over the years. They remodeled some of the interior recently but still serve the same great food that keeps bringing people like Carra Johnson Callies back for more.
La Casa Pizza Family Restaurant is located in the Foxchase Shopping Center at 4529 Duke St. It can be reached at 703-370-3600.
Paesano Italian Deli & Restaurant
Zach Driouche was born in raised in Morocco but studied electrical engineering in Italy before moving to the United States in 1981. He worked in Italian restaurants in Washington, D.C., where he learned the trade. He opened Paesano's 10 years ago in the small shopping center on Duke Street.
Back then, few of the buildings that currently loom over Paesano's existed. In the shopping center were the MetroStage Theater, Burke & Herbert, Mattress Discounters and an office used by the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra. Those companies have all since moved to other locations, leaving Paesano's and a Trak Auto store, which is owned by the Half family, owner of a dynasty including this shopping center.
While it's not clear what will be happen to the shopping center, Driouche isn't waiting around to find out. He has already acquired space next door in the new Human Resource Management Building on John Carlyle Drive. The plans are being drawn up, and he expects to move his business within a year. This bigger and newer space will be a nice change for Driouche, who has worked hard to build his business. Driouche said that he's planning to make this new restaurant a little more upscale and has already started making some new entrees.
Toni Carr, who works across the street, is a frequent customer and said, "I love the new specials." Last week, one of the specials was marinated chicken and eggplant, served with rice and vegetable. Some other dishes that Driouche is trying are vegetable quesadillas, spinach manicotti with Alfredo sauce, and spaghetti with seafood.
Rita Brown, who also works across the street, comes to Paesano's a couple of times a week and said that she loves the meatball subs. Another customer, Cuneyt Akdemir, comes in even more frequently and also likes the meatball subs as well as the steak and cheese subs.
"It's good food, and the people are nice," he said.
Driouche himself is partial to the calzones, pasta and Spaghetti Putanesca. He does all the cooking, and his wife and other family members help out. "Everybody knows everything," he said. Even so, Driouche doesn't take much time for vacation. They are closed on Sundays, but are open every other day from 8 a.m.-11 p.m.
Driouche said that pizza makes up half of his business and that half of his customers get the food to go. Another 20 percent take advantage of the delivery that Driouche provides to all of Alexandria. He also caters office parties and other gatherings.
Paesano Italian Restaurant & Deli is located at 1724 Duke St. It can be reached at 703-548-8111.