At 6 years old, Michelle Huber (maiden name Vacco) didn’t play house. She played “Scornovacca’s” with her aunt Amy. They wrote on pads of paper and pretended to take orders, as if they were working in the family’s pizzeria owned by Michelle’s father, Michael.
The two members of the Vacco family didn’t know that their childhood game would one day become reality. Michelle Huber, 31, now owns Scornovacca’s and Amy Vacco, 37, manages the nearly 40-year fixture of the restaurant scene on Des Moines’ south side.
The story of Scornovacca’s, meaning scorn of the cow, is intertwined with the history of the Vacco family itself. Amy remembers playing on two-by-fours as her brother and her father, Michael and Roscoe, constructed the restaurant at its third location.
“She grew with the building,” said Anne Marie Vacco or Mom, as both her family and customers call her.
Anne Marie makes the sauce and the meatballs.
“It is a mortal sin to come in here and take a meatball out of the sauce. If I catch them, they’re dead,” she said.
And, there is a constant stream of family members stopping by for a pie, taking on shifts or volunteering to deliver food orders. The Vaccos look out for one another. That’s what families do, especially after a loss.
Michael Vacco, or Scorno as his family knew him, passed away Aug. 9, 2010.
Michelle, who also teaches part time at Maple Grove Elementary School in Waukee, is carrying on her father’s legacy — delivering steaming trays of pizza to customers who share stories about the man who brought them all together.
“That was Mike’s wish,” Anne Marie said. “He told me what to do: ‘Keep the doors open, Mom.’ And I said I would.”
Michelle and the rest of the Vacco family aren’t only keeping the doors open, they’re pushing the business forward as they prepare to celebrate Scornovacca’s 40th anniversary in June. This spring they will unveil a new menu that incorporates more of the specialty pizzas the family has long made for themselves.
Meatball, pesto, buffalo chicken and Alfredo chicken pizzas will join the taco and cheeseburger specialty pizzas which debuted in 1977 and 1988, respectively.
For Michelle, a family recipe is a prospective menu item if it tastes good but isn’t so obscure customers wouldn’t enjoy it.
“We know what excellent pizza is, because Grandma has been making excellent pizza all these years,” Michelle said.
The Vaccos agreed to share some of their trade secrets discovered over decades of mixing dough and stirring sauce.
It’s all about the crust: The Vaccos say making crust is “touchy.” Its success can depend on the weather and even how much precipitation is in the air. The family bakes the dough on parchment paper. They recommend using a pizza stone, but Anne Marie says cookie sheets work fine, too.
Spread it out: The Vaccos suggest spreading ingredients so customers can taste all the ingredients when they take a bite. They caution that too many onions or too much garlic, cheese or sauce masks other more subtle flavors competing for attention.
“I think the sauce really is the base of it all, and the other ingredients highlight the qualities of the sauce,” Michelle said.
Rein it in: Michelle stresses self control when choosing toppings: “Make sure you have a good balance of ingredients and don’t just go buck wild and throw everything on a pizza because you can.”
The Vaccos are looking forward to a several day celebration complete with a bocce ball tournament, live music and pizza specials for the business’s anniversary this summer. For now, they will continue to make pizza just like Michael and Anne Marie taught them.
“Dad put his heart into this business,” Michelle said. “To keep it going is just the obvious and the right thing to do.”
Find it: 1930 S.E. 14th St.
Hours: 4-9 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Info: 244-5779; scornos.com