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Sam Martorana, 83; founder of famed Casa Bianca pizzeria

Times Staff Writer

Salvatore A. “Sam” Martorana, the son of Italian immigrants who felt he had hit “the big time” when the pizza at his Eagle Rock restaurant was named the Southland’s best, has died. He was 83.

Martorana, who founded Casa Bianca Pizza Pie in the mid-1950s, died Sunday at his Pasadena home of complications related to a brain tumor, said his daughter, Andrea Martorana.

“Of all the neighborhood pizza parlors out there, each of them touted as the best in the Southland, one of them actually has to be the best. And after chomping my way through half the pies in Los Angeles County, I’m pretty sure Casa Bianca is the one,” food critic Jonathan Gold said in The Times in 1991.

After the article ran, “things really changed,” Andrea Martorana said. “We were doing well as a little family place, but at one point we had more business than we could handle.”

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“When you step into the foyer, you’re whomped with the smell of garlic and the roar of many, many people being happy,” Gold wrote in the review. “And the pizza -- well, the pizza is just the best, especially the sausage pizza.”

There is no secret recipe, his daughter said, just a dedication to using quality ingredients and making everything from scratch. Until recently, the vaunted sausage was handmade by Martorana, the son of a butcher.

In 1991, Gold also named Casa Bianca’s sausage pizza one of the top 10 dishes that he had tasted that year.

But Martorana’s favorite pizza was his signature “deluxe,” made with sausage, mushrooms and bell peppers.

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Salvatore Anthony Martorana was born Feb. 8, 1924, in Milwaukee and raised in Chicago. He was known as Sam, a name spelled by his initials.

At 17, Martorana joined the Navy and served for four years in the Pacific during World War II.

After the war, he returned to Chicago and honed his pizza-making skills at a restaurant called Tony’s Pizza. In 1954, he migrated west to be near family members who had already moved to Pasadena.

With his brother Joseph, Martorana opened Casa Bianca in 1955 in a corner storefront on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock. Running a restaurant “was in their blood” since their father had owned a grocery-deli, his daughter said.

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In the early 1960s, the brothers split amicably and Martorana’s wife, Jennie, started working at Casa Bianca. Joseph had wanted to open his own restaurant, and for years he presided over a Pizza King at North Lake Avenue and East Walnut Street in Pasadena. He died in 1984.

Martorana’s daughter and his son, Ned -- along with their mother -- now run Casa Bianca, a pizza place with the requisite red-checkered tablecloths and a line out the door most nights.

A memorial service for Martorana will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Eagle Rock Baptist Church, 1499 Colorado Blvd., Los Angeles.

In addition to Jennie, his wife of 58 years, and his son and daughter, Martorana is survived by four grandchildren and two sisters, Antoinette Impala and Pauline Ward. Another son, Leandro, died in 1978.

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valerie.nelson@latimes.com


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