The Tavern Story
A Des Moines Tradition Since 1945
The Tavern was founded in Valley Junction during the Great Depression and has been in operation ever since. In 1945 it was purchased by John and Mary Rilei who operated it as a small town tavern – with pool table, a bar and a few booths and tables.
In 1950, to shore up their declining bar business, John and Mary introduced the Grinder Sandwich and a legend was born. Shortly thereafter; The Taverns famous thin-crust pizza was added to the menu. The pizza was an instant success, and soon, customers began waiting in line to buy it. This prompted the addition of a kitchen and the removal of the pool table to make room for more dining and to accommodate the masses of customers who were becoming addicted to the great flavor of the pie.
In 1970, John died of cancer, and Mary was faced with a decision to sell or keep The Tavern. Her many friends advised her to hang on, and that's exactly what she did - successfully operating the business until September 18, 1988, when she sold it to long-time friend, Chuck Celsi. Mary continued to live in the apartment upstairs, and with Celsiís blessing, she continued to keep watch over every phase of the operation. For years, Mary mixed the spices and supervised the making of the sauces and other products to make sure nothing changed. To this day, all of the original recipes are exactly as Mary made them.
As the business continued to grow, the menu was expanded. Fryers were added for the great homemade onion rings. And it was not long before the "Calabrese "flavor and foods of Grandma Celsi began to appear in some of the new foods added to the menu - including lasagna, spaghetti, meatballs, Quantis (wandas), raviolis, sausage, stuffed peppers and more.
Lucrezia and Tony Celsi immigrated thru Ellis Island in 1920 from Crucoli, which is in the province of Calabria, Italy, and they soon became American citizens. The only food they knew was Italian, and Grandma Celsi was known throughout Des Moines' Italian-American community as a superb cook. So it was no wonder that their son, Chuck, would "borrow" her talent and expand The Tavern's menu through the years. The business continued to grow and customers kept coming in great numbers.
In 1990, Celsi purchased the building north of The Tavern and doubled the size of the restaurant.
In 1995, The Tavern II, which seats 375, was opened on 50th Street in West Des Moines and in 2004, the Tavern on the Go was commissioned. This fully equipped mobile kitchen is used as a concession trailer at many events and to prepare made-to-order Tavern specialties on location for all types of private and corporate functions.
Please accept my welcome to the Tavern Pizza and Pasta Grill and enjoy your dining experience.
— Chuck Celsi, Your Host
Tavern I & II Hours — Monday–Thurs:11am–10pm; Fri & Sat:11am–11pm