Only four people in the world know the secrets to the success of Tony’s Pizza, and one of them is George Creveling.
One secret is the sauce. The other is the goodwill the shabby-looking little pizzeria stuck in a grove of bamboo trees in Ventura has built over the last 40 years.
When someone comes in $2 short, Creveling, a beefy man with startlingly blue eyes, an overgrown mustache and tattooed arms, gives them their pizza with an IOU. Late nights, when homeless people walk by, he hands out a couple of slices of leftover pepperoni.
“That’s part of the mystique of the place,” he said. “We have a lot of friends.”
Creveling is the only non-family member privy to the secret recipe for the New York-style pizza. He got into the business after Tony Barrios, the 73-year-old owner, married Creveling’s sister.
Tony’s is a one-room beach shack of a building, the centerpiece of which is an 85-year-old pizza oven. They serve nothing but pizza and drinks. Inside is a single table for two, but most people eat outside, on picnic tables in the grove.
In an age of impersonal corporations, anxious employees and big box stores, Tony’s retains the atmosphere of the neighborhood store. Creveling believes he and Tony have even saved lives by lending an ear and a slice of pizza to a lost soul.
“I can’t tell you how many times someone has come to the door and sat down and cried,” he said. “And me, or Tony, or his wife, sat down and cried right along with them.”
The karma shows. Cars stream by at high speed on Thompson Boulevard in front of Tony’s. Every few minutes, a local pizza lover honks his horn.
“That happens all the time,” Creveling says, waving a flour-caked hand.