The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Pagliai’s Pizza fifth generation building owner to sell property

The building housing Pagliai’s Pizza is listed for $5 million. The building holds many dear memories since its creation in 1878.
Grace Smith
Max Wilbur puts cheese on a pizza at Pagliai’s Pizza in Iowa City on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. Wilbur started working three weeks ago, and likes the slower pace of the restaurant’s workflow.

Warm smells of pizza dough being baked along with textured brick from the years of service has been greeting customers of Pagliai’s for generations.

After over 60 years of business, the building housing local Iowa City staple Pagliai’s Pizza is up for sale with an asking price of $5 million. Under the same family’s ownership since 1878, the building has held a special significance for the Iowa City community for generations.

While the building is being sold, business is expected to remain normal. Pagliai’s lease will last seven more years, owner Antonio Fontanini said.

The building was first built in 1877 by Joseph Slezak who is the great, great grandfather of current building owner Gary Skarda. Gary Skarda is the fifth generation to own the building.

Deciding to sell was not an easy decision for Skarda, who decided it was time as he can’t manage the property as effectively as he gets older. Skarda had an amputation done to his right leg because of nerve damage greatly restricting his ability to work. 

“I was unable to do things at the property that I was able to do before. I can’t even drive right now because I need special tools in the car to be able to drive because it was my right leg,” Skarda said. “So, that was the main reason certainly why I can’t do the things I once was able to do.” 

Located at 302 E. Bloomington St., the three-story building contains Pagliai’s Pizza, a laundromat, and 16 apartments.

The realtor for the building, Rex Brandstatter, said the space has offered a variety of different services since its construction. Brandstatter said it was first created to be a dance hall by Slezak, who was a dancer.

Later, the building was used as a hotel, a grocery store, and a saloon. The laundromat used to be a delivery stable for horses when people would come to Iowa City on buggies, which was intended to encourage people to stay at the building when it was a hotel, according to Brandstatter.

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Brandstatter said there has been interest in the property, and it has not been an easy decision for the owner to list the property.

“[Skarda] grew up in the building. He lived in the building with his parents who owned it and managed it,” Brandstatter said.

University of Iowa alumni Carol deProsse wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that she moved to Iowa City in 1972 and has gone to Pagliai’s Pizza at least once a year for 51 years. 

“For a while, we went every Wednesday night and shared a mushroom, onion, and green pepper pizza,” deProsse wrote. “We never could remember how to spell or pronounce Pagliai so we resorted to calling it ‘Pig’s Pizza’ because we ate so much of it.” 

Ryan O’Leary, another UI alumni, said the owner before Fontanini, Armond Pagliai, was generous enough to make him and his best friend a pizza before the store opened at 4 p.m. after a long day of work.

“Christopher and I ate that beautiful pizza and had a couple of cold beers in a vacant laundromat around the corner on Market Street,” O’Leary wrote. “Armond’s generous gesture that afternoon put a huge smile on our faces.” 

Fontanini said they plan on riding out the sale and will go from there based off the new ownership. He said they would relocate Pagliai’s if it came to that.

“We’d love to stay there forever, for sure. It’s been a long time, so I’d like to keep it going,” Fontanini said.

When Pagliai’s Pizza opened in 1957, the price of a large pizza was only $1.25. The business surrounding Pagliai’s Pizza has changed dramatically since then.

Fontanini said one of the biggest differences he’s seen in the pizza business is the lack of late-night business since the pandemic.

“Pagliai’s used to be open until one o’clock in the morning, and then it changed to 12 o’clock and now 10. It just seems like the late-night traffic isn’t there ever since COVID-19,” he said. 

Luckily for Pagliai’s, Fontanini said they were able to transition relatively seamlessly to carry out, which is still a big part of their business model. He said support from the community has been exceedingly helpful especially during the pandemic.

“For us, Iowa City — the whole community of Johnson County has really good support and supported us during when the dining room was closed,” Fontanini said. 

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About the Contributors
Jack Moore, News Editor
Jack Moore is a second-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is from Cedar Rapids Iowa. Along with working at The Daily Iowan, Jack works for the University of Iowa's UI-REACH program as a Resident Assistant. UI-REACH is a program for students with learning, cognitive, and behavioral disabilities intended to provide support to these students throughout their college experience. Additionally, Jack is involved in Iowa City's live music scene as he plays bass for local Iowa City band "Two Canes."
Grace Smith, Senior photojournalist and filmmaker
Grace Smith is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic Arts. In her four years at The Daily Iowan, she has held the roles of photo editor, managing summer editor, and visual storyteller. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Grace has held an internship at The Denver Post and pursued freelance assignments for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Des Moines Register.