Danny Leporino was told 26 years ago that Florida cannot make a pizza.
"They said it had something to do with the water," he remembered with a smirk.
As Pizza Villa prepares this week to celebrate 25 years on making pizza in Hernando County, Danny is too busy to be smug.
Since he and his wife, Angela, opened the original location on State Road 50, which moved five years later across the street into the Coastal Shopping Center, they haven't slowed down much. And he expects that won't change any time soon.
Danny brought an extensive restaurant background to Hernando County, including some secret recipes consistent with New York-style Italian cuisine. While Pizza Villa began as a pizza, sub and salad shop, it quickly grew to include an expanded menu of Italian favorites, from pasta to seafood. The signature favorite is his unique pizza recipe that customers rave about.
The Leporinos moved their family to Hernando County to get out of Long Island, he said.
"I didn't want to raise my kids there," he said. They found a spot near Beall's Department Store and opened Pizza Villa a year and week after arriving in Florida
"I turned my key and took off," he said.
He immediately disproved the nay-sayers.
"It wasn't the water," he said. "It's how you prepare it. It's what you know."
And Danny knows pizza, from a childhood in Long Island growing up in the family-owned restaurants. His family had several.
"It started with my grandfather's recipe," he said.
It evidently worked, attracting enough business to justify opening a second location on Spring Hill Drive, just east of Linden in 2001. The Leporinos built the stand-alone building and planned to make it a delivery location.
"That never happened," Danny said.
Instead, both restaurants offer sit-down service in comfortable, cozy lit dining rooms.
The Coastal location also provides a private banquet room which seats up to 80.
The two locations pull customers from all over the Nature Coast, keeping Danny busy enough as he bounces between restaurants.
Pizza Villa's longevity in the community is linked to several factors, Danny said. "I haven't changed my recipe since day one. And customers tell me the pizza is better than up north!"
He also depends heavily on a staff, which includes managers, Rob Collen, Ceasar Ceparano, and Anthony Leporino, Danny's son, and a staff of loyal employees. Many have been with the restaurant since its beginning.
To commemorate 25 incredible years in the county, Pizza Villa is offering specials all week beginning Monday and extending through Sept. 1, at both locations.
The week also will hold drawings for gift cards and other prizes.
"We'll have tickets to the Bucs game and give out T-shirts," Danny said.
"I have customers coming in," he added, many for 25 years. "I want to take care of them."