As I stumbled into Allegro Pizza at 2 a.m., an important question came to me: who is Allegro? At that moment, I made it my personal mission to find out who the man is behind the slice of cheese and pepperoni that I routinely devour in ten seconds tops.
Immediately after arriving on campus, I realized that Allegro doesn’t need an explanation—it’s simply the place to be late at night and eat some great food, and it’s always the move. In fact, I hadn't even entered Allegro during daylight until my investigation began, and as I walked in at 3:30 p.m., I found that it looked drastically different. Instead of drunk college students waiting in line for a slice, it was filled with families grabbing a bite to eat. After asking to know more, I was introduced to one of the owners, Elias “Lou” Kosmatos.
Kosmatos explained that Allegro has been in its current location since 1982, and it was originally one of five locations owned by an Italian family for 24 years. In 2006, Kosmatos’ family bought the University City location, and it became their third restaurant in the area—they also own Axis Pizza and Greek Lady. Yes, you read that correctly: Greek Lady and Allegro, two of the most iconic but also wildly different eateries on campus, are owned by the same family.
I asked Kosmatos what an average day at Allegro is like. He said that there are three main rushes: lunch, dinner, and late night (past midnight). Surprisingly, lunch is the busiest time of day. He says that the popular orders differ through the day, and past midnight, they usually are of the fried foods on the menu, including mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders, and, of course, slices. However, he says that, “From time to time, a girl who really takes care of herself will order a salad, which is always funny.”
Kosmatos is constantly entertained by the late–night shenanigans at the restaurant, which keep him on his toes. He says he has too many funny anecdotes to even recount, but most include inebriated people stumbling and generally being ridiculous.
“One time when it was busy at around two o’clock in the morning, there was a fight to get ahead in line, and a Penn student broke through the window,” he says. That student came back the next day to pay for the window and actually became good friends with Kosmatos.
Another notable moment was when a girl peed in the business office during Fling—the regular bathrooms had been occupied, and she'd ended up in that office rather than the staff bathroom. Though these stories are amusing, Kosmatos says that the safety of the students is the priority, and that they don’t ever want to see someone too intoxicated.
Although for many Penn students, Allegro is known as a late–night hotspot, Kosmatos says that some of the customers have been coming since it opened 35 years ago. He emphasized how special the restaurant is for the community, saying, “People say it’s a landmark of West Philadelphia, in the center of everything.” Other than students, he says that the majority of customers are West Philadelphia residents and professionals on their lunch break.
I asked how Kosmatos’ family came to own two iconic campus restaurants, and he explained that the Greek Lady is Lou’s aunt Olga, who had immigrated from Greece. The restaurant started out as a cart on Locust Walk, and when someone would ask where people got the popular hoagies from, they would reply, “The greek lady!” The name stuck, and the cart soon became a truck, and then later the restaurant itself. Still, the authenticity of the product is the same, and it has been made with the same recipes since its opening in 1982, coincidentally the same year Allegro opened.
Now that I knew who the Greek Lady was, I asked the identity of Allegro, and Kosmatos simply responded that it means “happy” in Spanish and Italian, proving that I should have paid more attention in my four years of Spanish classes. Even though Allegro isn’t named after a person, the restaurant has taken on a life of its own.
Exiting the restaurant after making awkward eye contact with two people in my Comparative Literature lecture, a Quad security guard, and a five year old with sauce covering his face, I came to the conclusion that in a way, we are all Allegro, if only for the uniting moment when we all stuff our faces with the same recipes that have captivated the campus for decades.