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Rafael Quinto serves up a slice and a smile

Rafael Quinto, a native Venezuelan, worked hard to build his Petaluma pizzeria, and that dedication to serving up an authentic, wholesome slice has paid off.

Quinto, the owner and operator of Rafy’s Pizzeria on East Washington Street, first came to the U.S. from his hometown in Venezuela near the head of the Amazon River when he was 16 or 17. He got a job working as a dishwasher at a pizzeria in the lower east side of Manhattan, and his family encouraged him to remain in the states.

“When I talked to my parents back home, they told me to stay (here in the U.S.) because there was no work and the people (there) were going through hard times,” he recalled.

Quinto learned to do everything from deliveries to making the pizza, then moved upward to become first associate and then general manager. He then was promoted to manage a pizzeria in Rockefeller Center, and it was there that he met Sarah, a University of California, Santa Barbara graduate who worked for the same company, and the two got married.

The next stage of the Quintos’ journey led them to Benicia, Calif. where they saw an ad for a pizzeria for sale in Petaluma in July 2008. The couple bought the property and opened the first Rafy’s Pizzeria Nov. 9, 2009 in the Orchard Supply Center.

“It was during the time when the economy was really bad, but we’re still here,” Quinto, 35, said. “We made it happen by doing a lot of hard work and making sacrifices, especially me not seeing my kids.”

During the first three years, Quinto said he had to learn how to be his own boss, rather than just a manager, which proved to be a challenge.

“You have to be everywhere and teach your people how to do (all of the jobs that need doing),” he said.

The first pizzeria did so well that a second location, next to Whole Foods, opened in 2012. In 2013, Quinto consolidated the two stores into one, closing the OSH Center location.

It’s not just the New York-style, thin-crust pizza that makes the eatery unique – the pizzeria, which has earned recognition from The Press Democrat’s Bite Club as one of Sonoma County’s top 10 “Friday Night Pizza Spots,” is also shaped by Quinto’s dedication to serving his customers, as well as his fun personality.

As the boss, the father of two still makes pizza from time to time and enjoys visiting with his patrons, some of whom come from as far as Novato to visit with him and eat their favorite pizzas, he said.

Quinto, who says he likes pizza, adds that his passion is feeding people good food.

“I want to feed people, give everyone a plate of good food every night,” he said. “It’s really sad to know that children go hungry at night. If I become a powerful person, I would end hunger around the world.”

(Cotact Lynn Schnitzer at argus@arguscourier.com)

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