Maria Favorito followed her brother Salvatore Ferrante from Sicily to York County when she was 14 years old.

Ferrante owned Central Pizza in Red Lion. Favorito wanted to work and learn the pizza-shop trade. Her family of seven struggled to make ends meet in Italy, and she didn't want to be poor for the rest of her life.

Favorito didn't have toys as a child, so when she got her first paycheck at age 14, she bought 12 stuffed animals.

Her mom, Vita Ferrante, taught her how to cook in Italy, often telling her how to prepare something - like lentil soup - and leaving Favorito to take on the challenge alone. After arriving in Red Lion, she studied how her brother ran his restaurant, taking in everything from advertising to panning dough.

Favorito, 44, said many women didn't make pizza in the '80s, and she wanted to be equal to men. Mostly, she wanted to be independent.

"When (customers) first came in and saw me making pizzas, they would take a double look," she said.

In 1993, Favorito bought Central Pizza from her brother. The restaurant marks its 30th anniversary this year.

I'm always surprised when restaurants with such long life spans haven't been featured in Cheap Eats, which has been running for several years. Then, I get excited because I know that a business that makes it that long is a good find.

I ordered a turkey salad at the counter and took a seat to wait. Pale yellow walls and red trim color the mid-sized dining area, made up of booths and several tables. Kids' toys rest in the corner next to a rack of pizza magazines for interested customers. Traces of Sicily mark the walls. The restaurant's first menu hangs framed, pricing a slice at 60 cents.

An employee brought out my salad in a few minutes, served with homemade garlic bread. Rolls of fresh turkey and provolone cheese were spread out over a bed of romaine lettuce, tomatoes and onions. I chose the house dressing - oil, vinegar and spices.

Salvo Stasiak, 8, of Springettsbury Township, stretches out the mozzarella cheese on his personal pan pizza.
Salvo Stasiak, 8, of Springettsbury Township, stretches out the mozzarella cheese on his personal pan pizza. (FLIPSIDE -- CHRIS DUNN)
I really liked the dressing, which reminded me of the house dressing my parents make at their restaurant in Scranton.

During an interview with Favorito a few days later, she said I should've ordered the pizza or a sub. Her husband, Pippo, makes the pizza dough and bread fresh each day. I plan on taking her up on that suggestion.

She said the owners have always prided themselves on serving the highest quality ingredients and she couldn't serve something she didn't believe in.

A lot has changed in the last 30 years, but Favorito said Central Pizza has kept its core values and 80 percent of the original menu.

She said she has customers today who used to come in as high school students. Now, they're married with kids. That's how she knows she's doing something right.

"My heart gets so big," Favorito said.

Cheap Eats profiles local restaurants with meals for less than $10. Suggestions are welcome. Reach Leigh Zaleski at 771-2101, lzaleski@ydr.com.

If you go

LOCATION: Central Pizza, 33 N. Main St. in Red Lion

CUISINE: Italian

LEIGH'S PICK: Turkey salad and a diet coke ($8.85)

PARKING: Street

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

PRICE RANGE: 80 cents to $20.50

ALCOHOL: No

SMOKING: No

ACCEPTS: Cash, Visa and Mastercard

TAKEOUT: Yes

KID'S MENU: Yes

DETAILS: Call 244-2030 or visit gocentralpizza.com

Pizza deals

Central Pizza in Red Lion has been hosting celebrations and specials for its 30th anniversary. The next celebration starts at 11 a.m. June 25. Maria Favorito also will host a five-course Sicilian night 5:30 and 7 p.m. June 5 for $29.95. The event is BYOB.

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