Nearly every Penn student and alumni could tell you a story about an incredible night that ended at Allegro. I had the honor of spending a day at the oldest pizzeria in University City, which is an indispensable part of the Penn experience. Whether you are stumbling in for a slice of pepperoni at 2am on a Friday or nursing a hangover with your heavenly pancakes on a Sunday morning, can you truly call yourself a Penn student if you haven’t taken one, or many, trips to Allegro?
As I walked through the front door this Friday afternoon, I was met by a flood of memories and the smell of freshly baked bread, discernible even through the cloth of my mask. From the moment I entered I was surrounded by Allegro's many loyal regulars. The employees knew them by name, along with their order, where they work, and many other minute details of their life.
“They’re so much more than just customers to us. Many of them have become like friends or family, and we’ve formed such strong relationships with one another,” reflected Elias Kosmatos, the general manager.
I spoke to some of the customers as we waited in line. One, who was waiting for a slice of Meat Lover’s, which he does every Friday afternoon, told me he’s been coming to Allegro for over 40 years—and will never stop. Most of Allegro’s customers either live or work in the neighborhood, including Penn students and members of the greater West Philadelphia community.
Three employees reflected upon this as they enjoyed their lunch break, after which I had the chance to reminisce with them about their time working at the pizza joint.
“You really could write an incredible book about Allegro. There are so many amazing stories and memories that we all have together,” Bernard, an Allegro employee for eight years, described.
“Not a book. A T.V. show. We’d make such a great T.V. show,” Brielle, who has worked there for four years, countered.
“We’d take out Shameless with that T.V. show,” added Elias.
After listening to the group recount story after story from their years working at Allegro, I must say that I agree. It’s no surprise that many of the anecdotes involve drunken Penn students. They described watching kids mercilessly spray each other with ketchup and mustard on Hey Day, frat brothers streaking through the parking lot, and young women venturing behind the counter to kiss Allegro employees on a dare.
Elias then led me around the restaurant for a tour, stopping to point out the booth where one student sat for an entire 24 hours. As we approached the kitchen, he told me the story of a student who made their graduation cap out of an Allegro's single-slice box, then handed me an apron.
Elias responded to my confused expression with a smile: “Don’t you want to make a pizza?” he asked.
I crafted my masterpiece under Elias’s guidance. As I boxed it up, he and the other employees reminisced about the days when the pizzeria was filled to the brim with students on every weekend night.
“You know how it used to be,” Brielle reflected. “It just isn’t the same anymore. This place doesn’t have the same energy and life that it did before the pandemic, but we’re doing our best to make the most of it.”
Much of Brielle’s optimism can likely be attributed to her close relationship with her co-workers. “We really have been beside one another through everything. Whether it be weddings or babies, we’re always there,” she described.
“We're family. We have fun, we joke around, and we fight and make up just like any family,” Bernard chimed in.
As I removed my apron and walked towards the door, Elias told me about a Penn alum who recently contacted him from California. He met his wife at Allegro while they were in college and asked if Elias could send him a set of Allegro T-Shirts to give her as a gift for their 40th wedding anniversary.
I long for the days when students had the chance to meet their soulmate at Allegro, when every booth was packed on a Friday night, and when tipsy students stumbled through the door one after another.