Sal’s Pizzeria & Family Restaurant: a Stanardsville fixture

By Susan Gibbs

For decades, Sal’s Pizzeria & Family Restaurant at the shopping center in Stanardsville has been a fixture in Greene’s county seat.

Sal's Owners Jimmy and Zulma Arias with Jimmy, 9, and Gabriela, 5

“Where would we be without Sal’s?” asks Micki Watson, who works out of the Greene County Sheriff’s Office. “The restaurant is convenient, it’s got good food reasonably priced, good service, and the people are friendly.”

Watson’s favorites are Sal’s salads —  be they Italian, shrimp or tuna,  Caesar, with or without grilled chicken, grilled or crispy chicken, Greek, chef’s, or house salads, or an antipasto platter.

Of course pizza is on the menu – New York, Sicilian, or Sal’s Special – and a variety of pasta is featured, both in traditional form and baked.

“Sal’s is a wonderful place to go for great Italian food,” says Tina Deane, who manages Lydia Mountain Lodge & Log Cabins in Stanardsville. “They have a unique signature sub that we all enjoy made from shredded chicken, and their baked spaghetti can’t be beat!”

But Jimmy Arias, who has owned Sal’s for the last 12 years, is not Italian.

A native of El Salvador, Arias immigrated to the United States when he was in his mid-teens.

Home to a part of the Maya civilization known for developing the only written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its art, architecture and mathematical astronomical systems, El Salvador’s recent history has been filled with turmoil.

It would remain under the rule of the Spanish crown for 300 years following the invasion of the conquistadors in the early part of the 16th century. And then, in the wake of the French and American revolutions, would fall victim to a series of governments and insurgencies culminating with the El Salvadoran Civil War.

At the time, El Salvador was home to the very rich, and the very poor, with a long history of repression of the latter.

“My family was poor,” says Arias. “We lived in a small house, and all of us five children slept in one room, on triple-decker bunk beds. We ate tortillas, and would climb trees to get lemons for juice to squeeze on them.”

When rebellion occurred, the government fought back with state-of-siege declarations, the suspension of constitutional rights, and death squads.

Young guerillas train in the Salvadoran countryside in 1981

Typically, according to reports, a death squad dressed in civilian clothes and traveled in anonymous vehicles. Their terrorism included publishing future-victim death lists, delivering coffins to said future victims, and sending the target-person an invitation to his/her own funeral.

Unionists, clergy, independent farmers and university officials were executed. In 1978, 687 citizens were reportedly killed by death squads, and, also reportedly, 1,796 were killed the following year, 11,895 in 1980, 16,276 in 1981, 8,000 in 1982, and another 8,000 in 1983.

Most are said to have been rural people, trade unionists, teachers, students, journalists, human rights advocates, priests, and anyone working in the interest of the poor majority. Among them was a Catholic Archbishop shot while giving mass. At his funeral, 42 mourners were massacred by government-sponsored snipers.

In 1984, Amnesty International reported that it had received: “regular, often daily, reports identifying El Salvador’s regular security and military units as responsible for the torture, “disappearance” and killing of non- combatant civilians from all sectors of Salvadoran society. Patients were allegedly removed from hospitals and tortured and murdered.

In the mid-1980s, state terror against Salvadorans became open. It included indiscriminate bombing  from military airplanes, planted mines, and the harassment of national and international medical personnel.

Young people – middle and high school students, along with college students and workers — were being organized as guerillas to fight back, but Arias’ mother refused to allow her son Jimmy to become involved.

“My brother and sister were already in this country,” Arias recalls. “I came here when I was 15.”

Once in Virginia, Arias worked in Roma’s Pizza in St. Petersburg, and he would continue to work “in Italian restaurants for 27 years.”

Sal's Pizzeria & Family Restaurant at 8265 Spotswood Trail in Stanardsville

In 2000, he purchased Sal’s Pizzeria & Family Restaurant in Stanardsville., where his menu features a variety of soups, salads, subs and specialty sandwiches, pastas, pizzas, and grilled chicken and rib eye steak dinners.

Over the course of the last 12 years, “We have had restaurants come and go,” says Greene County Director of Economic Development Tony Williams, “but Sal’s has remained a consistent, dependable asset to the community. That in itself is a success story.”

By the time Arias purchased Sal’s the civil war in his native country had been long over. A truce was finally concluded in early 1992, but more than 75,000 people had been killed, more than 25 percent of the population had been displaced as refugees, and an unknown number had simply disappeared.

And Greene County had become Arias’ home.

Now a United States citizen, Arias operates his business with the help of his wife of 15 years, Zulma, and it is family-run, to the extent, he says, that it could be said their children, Jimmy Walter, 9, and  Gabriela, 5, “were born and raised in the restaurant.”

The Arias family, as well as Sal’s has become a fixture in Stanardsville. And the Stanardsville community is their family.

“I’m here to have relationships,” Arias says. “My customers are my neighbors; my family. Without them, I am nothing.”

That’s  a sentiment customers appreciate.

“Guests at Lydia have enjoyed restaurant fare and speaking with Jimmy countless times before heading back to the mountain!” says Deane.

To see Sal’s full menu, visit Arias’ Web site at www.salsonline.com.

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