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Photo by Katie Turpen.
Carlos Vizcaino, who owns Tortugas Homemade Pizza with his wife and son, tosses fresh dough with infused herbs inside his restaurant kitchen.
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Photo by Katie Turpen.
Tortugas father and son
Matt Vizcaino and his father, Carlos Vizcaino, make work a family affair at Tortugas Homemade Pizza on John Hawkins Parkway.
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Tortugas deep dish
In the 1980s, Carlos Vizcaino was cooking and selling pizza in the birthplace of the deep dish: Chicago. In the late 1990s, he moved to his wife Carol’s hometown, Birmingham, with their son Matt.
Newly planted in the South, he decided to take a risk and bring a taste of Chicago to the city of Hoover. In August 1999, the family opened Tortugas Homemade Pizza on John Hawkins Parkway, back before the Walmart down the street was nothing but woods, said Matt.
“It was a big gamble bringing in a new product like we did,” Carlos said. “But we’ve really put our heart into it.”
Fifteen years later, that gamble turned out to be a smart decision as Tortugas has become a thriving neighborhood joint, run by Carlos, Carol and Matt, who was asked to join the family business while he was in college.
“I said, ‘Hey, you want a career like your parents?’” Carlos said with a laugh.
The Vizcainos have not looked back. The business is now open only for lunch Tuesday through Friday because of the heavy number of orders the Vizcainos were receiving. Lines out the door and long waits are typical on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The secret? It becomes evident while watching the Vizcaino family inside their kitchen as they roll out fresh, homemade dough infused with herbs.
“We chop all the tomatoes for our sauce by hand. Everything here is homemade and fresh,” Carlos said.
Customers will find that the pizza is a treat worth the wait. Tortugas offers both thin crust, which takes about 30 minutes, and the authentic Chicago Stuffed Pizza, which usually takes around 45 minutes. Twenty-two toppings are available, and Combination Specials include the Traditional Pizza, which contains Italian sausage, green bell peppers, mushrooms, onions and fresh garlic, and the Pizza Mexicana with homemade Mexican salsa, chili beef, black olives and blended mozzarella and cheddar cheeses.
“I still eat pizza for lunch all the time,” Matt said. “When it’s this good, you don’t get sick of it.”
The restaurant atmosphere is as unique as the entrées being served. The dining space is made up of two long, narrow rooms of tables and wooden booths. Chicago sports team memorabilia line the walls in addition to items representing Hoover and UAB teams.
“I want to participate in the community that I am working in,” Carlos said. “My customers have kids, and I want to be able to sponsor them.”
In addition to the sports memorabilia, picture collages cover the walls, portraying everything from babies to couples on their wedding day, revealing how customers quickly become family. Matt said that the customers themselves bring in most of these items and pictures.
“The most rewarding part has been building friendships. I know so many people by name,” Carlos said.
Carlos admits that it can be tough being a small, independent business in today’s market, but he remains hard at work because he loves what he does and being surrounded by family. All of the employees have been with Tortugas for several years, some even from the very beginning.
“It’s a crazy, tough business, but it’s satisfying,” Carlos said. “We are just one big family here.”