Long Beach’s oldest restaurant, Domenico’s, will celebrate its 70th anniversary Friday with discounted menu items and free pizza certificates to the first 100 households who dine at the restaurant in Belmont Shore.

When the restaurant opened on Second Street in 1954 under Domenico and Beverly Spano, the menu included pizza-eating instructions: “Pick it up with your hands to eat it. Your waitress will be glad to show you the proper way.”

Today, each pizza is made the same unique way using Domenico’s original recipe.

“It’s kind of backwards from how people think pizza should be made,” said current Domenico’s owner Mike Rhodes.

First, mozzarella cheese is layered on the dough, followed by the marinara sauce and a variety of ground meats or any other chosen toppings.

Mike Rhodes, owner, stands inside Domenico’s. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The head pizza cook at the restaurant has held that role for 35 years, totaling over a million pizzas in that time, Rhodes said.

At 2:30 p.m. Friday, the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, the Belmont Shore Business Association and Long Beach Mayor Rex Richardson will hold a ceremony to name the alley behind the restaurant Domenico’s Drive.

And starting at 5 p.m. Friday, select pizza and pasta entrees will be offered at $19.54 along with a salad featuring Domenico’s special creamy garlic salad dressing to honor the first year the restaurant opened.

The restaurant has had three owners in its history and — other than doubling in size in the 1960s to seat 125 people — has not undergone any significant renovations.

A waitress walks through Domenico’s. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

A picture on one of the walls in the restaurant features a young Barbara Sinatra along with the Spano family. Sinatra, who was Domenico’s cousin, served as a hostess in the restaurant in the ‘50s prior to marrying legendary singer Frank Sinatra in 1976.

Rhodes purchased the restaurant in March 2004 from the second family to own the establishment. Rochelle Kenyon decided to sell it after the death of her husband Craig.

Since taking over Domenico’s in 2004, Rhodes added many pasta dishes to the menu including the fan-favorite sausage tomato cream. In that dish, the restaurant uses fresh basil instead of vodka to make a vodka-like sauce with rigatoni pasta and sliced sausage.

When he took over, roughly 80% of customers ordered pizza and now that distribution is more even with half ordering pizza and half ordering pasta, Rhodes said.

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In 2021, Rhodes opened Domenico’s on the Lake in Mission Viejo, a sister restaurant offering a wider variety of entrees including steaks, seafood and lamb. The restaurant at 27782 Vista Del Lago even offers brunch on Sundays.

Previously, Rhodes owned a chain of restaurants named Russell’s, which first opened in Long Beach in 1930.

“To me [Long Beach] is like the biggest small town in California,” Rhodes said. “It’s actually a big city but it still has that small-town community feel.”

He has worked in the restaurant industry since he was 16 and graduated from Cal State Long Beach in 1980 with a speech communications degree.

The original menu of Domenico’s which is celebrating its 70th birthday in Long Beach, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

During the ‘80s, he served as general manager of Original Tommy’s World Famous Hamburgers and was hired by the original owner Tommy Koulax, who started his first burger stand in 1946 at Beverly and Rampart Boulevards in Los Angeles.

Rhodes opened 11 restaurants for Koulax, including the one at 4315 E Anaheim Street in Long Beach.

That wealth of restaurant experience gave him a unique approach to hiring that he’s carried on to Domenico’s.

“The one requirement to work here is you have to be a nice person,” Rhodes said. “The truth is we can teach anybody how to make pizza or how to pour wine or how to wash dishes or how to serve customers, but we can’t teach you how to be a good person.”

Domenico’s, at 5339 Second Street, is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.