“Being in the kitchen, it’s like a passion. If you don’t have it, you better get out.”
Tony Testa of Rocky’s Pizza in Thurmont knows a thing or two about culinary creativity, the people of Thurmont, and steadfast dedication.
For the past 30 years, owners Tony and Tina Testa have brought smiles and delicious classic Italian dishes to Thurmont. Yet, their long-standing business wasn’t built overnight. It’s been a lifetime of cultivating skill, technique, and learning the trade of becoming a pillar in the community.
Born and raised in Naples, Italy, Tony moved to the United States when he was 24 years old. The lessons he took from his background have tremendously contributed to his decorated career in the business.
“I had my first job when I was 12 years old as a dishwasher in a restaurant,” Testa said. Back in the day, Coca-Cola came in wooden crates, and I had to flip those upside down and stand on them to reach into the sink. If I would have fallen in, I probably would have drowned.”
Testa didn’t spend his whole career washing dishes, though, and in just a few short years, he found himself on to bigger and better things. “I moved on to hotels and then culinary school in Italy and worked as a server and on cruise lines.”
To truly learn the restaurant industry, one must be knowledgeable and proficient at each job in order to keep the restaurant on track. Testa learned the ins and outs of his industry through decades of experience, but he has taken lessons from many sources and opportunities throughout his life, which have shaped how he has grown his business and himself.
“I’ve worked with great, great people since I was a kid,” Testa said. “I was 15 or 16 years old when a guy quit, and they moved me from the dishroom to being a chef. I was lucky the guy really liked me, and he taught me a lot of things. And, here, over 40 years later, my brain still goes back to that.”
Rocky’s popular dishes are a product of years of learning piece-by-piece how to operate yourself in a kitchen, along with a dash of creativity from the head chef. “You have to put your touch into things,” Testa said.
One thing Testa heavily emphasizes is the commitment to never stop learning. That lesson was instilled in him from a young age and has been a huge motivational chip for him in the kitchen.
At the age of 17, Testa found a mentor at his culinary school who made a lasting impact, which he fondly remembers to this day. “He was originally from Saudi Arabia. He knew seven languages,” Testa recalled, as he raised his hand to his face, reminiscing.
“I’ll never forget this, but this one time for his birthday, we bought him a gift and went to visit him at his house, where he brought us in this studio. It looked like a lawyer’s office, with his big desk and nothing but books all around the walls. It was all culinary books, and he told us that he got new ones in every day.”
Testa glanced around as if he was still in that room, peering at every wall. “We asked, ‘Why, Chef? Once you’re out of culinary school, you’re a chef. You’re done,’” Testa said. “He told us no, and that every day there is something new that comes out that he needed to learn about. What he did not know yesterday, he needed to know by tomorrow, and I’ll never forget that.”
These days, it can be challenging to read emotion and facial expressions through masks. Still, Testa was visibly beaming, recollecting the memories that guided him to where he is today. “Life is a learning experience from day one, all the way to the end. It never stops, and it never ends, my friend.”
Testa is also a firm believer that the good you put out eventually comes back to you in some form. Testa has spent lots of time giving back to the community, whether it’s working with Thurmont Little League or just being a friendly face accompanied by a hot meal.
“We help out in the community, and all of that stuff has paid back through my business throughout the years,” he said. “People support us, and we support them.”
That kind of community connection has established Rocky’s Pizza as a staple of Thurmont and the surrounding area, and it’s a huge reason why he and his family have stayed here for 36 years.
While he was already a well-rounded chef, Testa gained a key skill that has led his business when he came to America. “I did not know how to make pizzas until I moved over here,” he said. Just like before, Testa worked his way up until he branched out and opened his own Rocky’s Pizza in Thurmont in 1990. The Testas moved the location in 1996 to Tippin Drive, where they’ve found their home and have been working ever since. “When I came over here, I had to learn a new trade, and three or four million pizzas later, here we are,” he said.
It’s no mystery why the Testa’s have been a go-to spot for a hot meal in Thurmont for so long. Throughout his life, Testa has improved his recipes and techniques by taking a look over his shoulder and learning from other excellent chefs. But it’s that commitment to keep learning and growing that has had locals raving about his recipes for decades.
There’s nothing quite like breaking bread with people you care about and a perfectly crafted meal right in front of you. That’s something the Testas plan on continuing to provide Thurmont for years to come.
Photo by Blair Garrett
Owners Tony and Tina Testa are shown in their popular restaurant in Thurmont, Rocky’s NY Pizza & Italian Restaurant, celebrating 30 years in business.