Neon sign brought to Little Joe’s Pizza’s present location from the restaurant’s original location at Mission and Persia. Photo taken February 2020.
We’re spotlighting Little Joe’s Pizza in the Excelsior (5006 Mission St.), who on December 11, 2017, was accepted to San Francisco’s Legacy Business Registry. To qualify for the registry, businesses must be 30 years or older, be nominated by the Mayor or a member of the Board of Supervisors, or prove they have “made a significant impact on the history or culture of their neighborhood.” Little Joe’s Pizza was nominated by the District 11 Supervisor, Ahsha Safai.
Little Joe’s Pizzeria was opened in 1958 by Joseph “Little Joe” Russo, an Italian pizza maker who learned the craft working for his father at a North Beach pizzeria. He opened the restaurant at the corner of Mission and Persia streets in the Excelsior District and began serving Italian classics such as pizza, chicken parmesan, and pasta dishes. By 1972, the restaurant had grown so much that it moved from its original location to its present location at 5006 Mission Street.
In 1978, to serve the Excelsior’s growing Mexican-American clientele, a new family of owners led by Alfredo and Gloria Rodriguez added their influence to Little Joe’s menu. That’s still there in the form of Mexican pizza with refried beans, homemade chorizo, cheese, and jalapenos, all served against the backdrop of deep red wallpaper in a throwback dining room. Since the addition of Mexican food and flavors was such a hit, and given the Rodriguez family’s Mexican heritage, they rolled out an additional menu full of home-style Mexican favorites such as tacos, tamales, and enchiladas based on Gloria’s recipes.
Alfredo, known to everyone he met as “Fred,” passed away in 1995, but not before seeing his dream of running a family-owned business come true. Today, his children carry on the family legacy and continue to serve multiple generations of Excelsior residents. Their statement on Little Joe’s website says it best:
“Antoinette, Patricia, Marcela, and Alfredo, have all worked and participated in the business at different stages in our lives. We have walked alongside each other, our cousins, and people that become lifelong friends. All three of Fred’s daughters met their husbands working here and our family grew. His grandchildren grew up here. Now, 44 years later, this place has been home to four generations of the Rodriguez family. Little Joes is now being run by two of us, Patty and Fred. We make it our mission to remain a welcoming family, friendly, humble neighborhood spot. It is so important to us that the legacy our father left behind is preserved. Times change, but we work to ensure that our place stays the same. A familiar go-to place that people can come with their families and enjoy some good, old school homemade food.”
Little Joe’s Pizza is the oldest restaurant serving its original cuisine with its original name in District 11. Visit their website at littlejoespizzeria.com.
Fred and Patti Rodriguez, two of four children of Gloria and Fred Sr., posing inside of Little Joe’s Pizza. Photo by Will Carruthers/Hoodline.