A military veteran, John immigrated from Sicily to the States with his family. He and his brothers moved to San Diego from Detroit in 1946. John and his late brother George began working for a Hillcrest bar. “They needed food, so my brother figured, ‘We’ll put pizza in the place, just a little oven,’” Pernicano said noting he and his 10 siblings all ended up working there. “Four guys making pizzas, can you imagine?” John asked in an interview with Beach & Bay Press. “Then each brother got their own location and opened up their own place.”
John subsequently built Pernicano’s at 711 Turquoise St. in North PB.
“How many people like me have been here 65 years, and the family with four kids for 50 years?” asked John of his family's legacy of restaurants, that once numbered 10.
It’s a well-told story that All Hallows Catholic Church in La Jolla held their religious services for a time in Pernicano’s while the Mt. Soledad church was under construction. “The altar was where the pizza counter is now,” said John.
Of Pernicano, La Jolla architect Tim Golba said, “I never heard anyone say a bad word about John and given the length of time he was in business, that says a lot.”
John Pernicano was also a longtime Kiwanian. Mark McDonald, district secretary/executive director for the California, Nevada, Hawaii District of Kiwanis, remembers John well.
“John was full of life, he would come to the Downtown Club and every one of those people knew him,” McDonald said. “He would come down often and bring his squeeze box (accordion) and a tuba player and play music. It was all those little things … you just laughed, just loved it. He was famous for his fundraisers at his restaurant. He would say, ‘I’ll sell the beverages at the bar, you can have all the pasta you want. I’ll donate the pasta.’”
“He was just a terrific guy,” continued MacDonald. “He was involved in many things downtown. He came to our club quite often.”
About a year ago, John sold his business to a downtown restaurateur who planned to turn into into a Mexican breakfast place, then retired. But he told Beach & Bay Press it wasn’t by choice.
“The kids want to retire. They don’t want to work no more,” John said back then. “Well, that’s okay. I didn’t want to deprive anyone.”
If it had been up to him, John said he would have continued working seven days a week, sometimes performing on piano/keyboards until 2 a.m.
Of the reason for his longevity, John said: “This is a family restaurant. Everybody’s kids in La Jolla and PB were raised here. Everybody’s been raised with me. They’ve had their birthday parties here. I played Santa Claus. It was a tradition because I loved these kids. Little kids would play the piano with me and sing. That’s what kept me here 65 years.”
Survivors include John’s wife of 68 years, Lena; his four children: Linda, Debbie, John Jr. and Marlene; daughter-in-law Kristen Pernicano; son-in-law Carl Parrick, and three grandchildren, Laura Pernicano, Lisa Pernicano, and Leanne Parrick. He is also survived by his only living brother, Angelo, of Las Vegas, who turned 100 this year.