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Serving up a slice of history with Strollo’s, Lakeland’s first pizzeria

Learn the back story of Strollo’s, a restaurant that first introduced Italian cuisine to Lakeland in the 1940s.

The exterior of a tan, one-story building with dark trim and large front windows. A small sign for a church is fixed on one of the walls.

Do you remember when this spot on Main Street was one of Lakeland’s hottest restaurants?

Photo by LALtoday

Today, Lakeland is packed with pizza parlors — but it was a different story in 1948. Back when the city was starting to build up around downtown, a new restaurant eventually known as Strollo’s completely changed the dining scene.

Italian grocer Lorenzo Strollo moved to Florida from Youngstown, OH in the 1940s and partnered with restaurateur Vito Giannini to introduce Italian food to Lakelanders. (You may recognize Giannini’s name from another local eatery, Vito’s in Dixieland.) Together, they opened their restaurant at 1295 E. Main St. in 1948. It was first known as “the Glass Diner” before becoming Strollo’s.

While pizza was first popularized up north in the late 1800s, it hadn’t made its way to small towns like Lakeland yet. Strollo’s was the first to serve the unfamiliar dish, selling it for just $1. Not to be outdone by other eateries, it was also the first local spot to serve hard liquor after it was legalized in Lakeland in 1963.

A black and white photo showing cars parked outside downtown storefronts in Lakeland in 1948.

Strollo’s wasn’t far from downtown Lakeland, pictured here in 1948.

Photo via Florida Memory

Since it was situated near downtown, the restaurant became a popular dinner choice. It eventually expanded to include 400 seats for guests and offered cocktails, spaghetti, seafood, and more in addition to pizza.

Our readers told us it was one of their favorite spots, with reader Karen K. saying they “wish we could still go every Friday night like in the old days!” Reader John M. told us it had “great Italian cuisine, including wonderful pizzas, and a lounge that was a regular hangout for many Lakelanders.”

Strollo’s closed in 1981, but nostalgia runs deep: a matchbook from its early days recently sold for $24 online (that’s 24 times what a pizza originally cost).

You could say that Strollo’s paved the way for the pizza parlors of Lakeland today. While the restaurant’s location is now a church, you can find your next slice at one of our favorite pizza joints.

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