Paul Praino began his career in pizza at the tender age of 12.
The Blakely native used to walk to Duke’s sports bar and pizza parlor at its former location in Peckville every day when he got out of school at Valley View, where he would work as a stockboy and kitchen prep cook for his uncle, Andy Venosh, who owned the business with a couple friends. From the start, the Midvalley establishment was known for its square trays, hot and cold hoagies, crisp salads and tasty wings.
But the standout on the menu became the Steak and Cheese Pizza, which was borne from a request by one of the bar’s best customers.
“It blew up, and it’s the reason we’re still here,” said Praino.
By 16 years old, Praino became a partial owner in the business. When his uncle fell ill and passed away, his other uncle, Bobby Venosh, took over and encouraged Praino to step in authority with Duke’s. They eventually opened a second location at 620 S. Blakely St., Dunmore, in April 2016, where Praino took the lead while Venosh stayed behind to manage the Peckville joint.
Praino long desired getting out of the bar business, though, so when Venosh died unexpectedly shortly after in May, Praino decided to leave the original Duke’s behind to build up the Dunmore carry-out spot.
With less than 10 seats around a handful of small tables, the space lends itself to more of a grab-and-go style, which suits Praino’s ideal business model. By eliminating waiting on people, he’s able to focus on the product, and making it the best it’s been in years.
He serves all square pizza, from the traditional red to the Polish pierogi-style Pagash to the Fresh Tomato, Basil and Garlic. The famous steak-and-cheese pies come double-crusted and can be customized with onion, peppers or mushrooms.
Praino also perfected his own wing sauce, the Peno, which is a sort of hot honey garlic flavor, and serves it up hot to order on the regular wings or boneless, which can be made baked for a healthier option.
The 12-inch hoagies come in all the standard varieties, while his homemade pierogies are rolled fresh in numerous combinations, like Potato and Cheese, Buffalo Chicken, Steak and Cheese and Jalapeno.
His newest addition to the menu is the invention of Duke’s Snackatizer, which is a sort of appetizer sampler pizza. It pairs cheese and a double-crust with onion rings, French fries and fried mozzarella and comes with a choice of dipping sauces.
“Some people do that with sandwiches and I thought, ‘Man, this could be good in a pizza. You could say the customers also helped with the idea.”
For help, Praino leans on his mother, Julia Venosh, and longtime pizza-making partner Gary Frisbie, who worked at the original Duke’s for 15 years and has known Praino’s family for more than two decades. They offer delivery during lunch to schools and local businesses, and do their best to stay active with local community groups, which was standard practice at the old Duke’s.
They’ve offered athletic scholarships and served pizza at games for years, and regularly help dance academies, kids’ groups and more with fundraisers. They donate pizzas often, and have been a popular presence at the annual St. Ubaldo festivities.
“Duke’s has always been heavily involved with the community. Very close-knit with the neighbors,” Praino said.
He also offers weeknight specials Mondays through Thursdays so that customers can try the food and various specials at discounted rates.
His greatest obstacle in the past year has been spreading the word about where he is now, but he credits his longtime faithful customers and the welcoming new faces he sees with making the business a continued success.
“The biggest challenge is being in one location for 27 years, and now people don’t realize we’re here,” Praino said. “But I want to thank all the loyal people who stuck with us, and the new Dunmore/Scranton customers who have given us a shot.”
— patrice wilding
Address: 620 S. Blakely St., Dunmore
Owner: Paul Praino
Cuisine: Pizza, hoagies, wings and salads
Hours: Mondays, 2 to 8 p.m.; Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 9 p.m.
Online: Follow the Duke’s Pizza Dunmore page on Facebook.