CHAPEL HILL — Three great forces of Italian culture - food, family and futbol - are colliding this summer in Chapel Hill.
In August, Italian Pizzeria III - affectionately called IP3 by regulars - will observe its 30-year anniversary. Last week, the owners kicked off the party with standing-room-only crowds for the World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa.
Italian natives Angelo and Vincenzo Marrone have owned IP3 since 2000, when they bought it from their uncle, Elpriano Icciano. Icciano opened the restaurant in 1980.
The Marrone brothers grew up in Monte di Procida, not far from Naples, Italy. In 1996, 19-year-old Angelo and Vincenzo, 14, moved to America to work at IP3.
Early June 12, they hung Budweiser banners across the room and put out bunches of balloons and beach balls in red, green and white, the colors of Italy's flag.
An excited group of fans filled several booths two hours before IP3 officially opened.
Angelo said they would use five to six 50-pound bags of flour daily during the World Cup. That's enough for 350 pizzas, plus hundreds more for a UNC basketball camp.
Ten years ago, nobody came out to cheer for the World Cup teams, Angelo said. Now, more Americans know about soccer, but it's nowhere near the passion in other nations.
"South American people and European people, we've got soccer in our blood," he said. "This month is my happy month."
The brothers were all smiles last Monday, just before Italy's match against Paraguay. The 2006 World Cup champions are known for fielding one of the dominant European teams.
Quickly and efficiently, the family served up pizzas, slices and subs, stopping only to snap photos and greet old friends.
But when the Italian national anthem began to play, the family gathered at attention, hands over their hearts, and a hush fell across the room. Minutes later, they broke the silence, proudly clapping along to "Il Canto degli Italiani" ("The Song of the Italians").
Each time, the Italians closed in on the goal, the crowd seemed to hold its breath. But Italy was thwarted, and the room groaned. Paraguay took the lead just before the break.
UNC seniors Michael Johnston and Marco Romeo, who had scored a booth near one of two big-screen TVs, talked during the break with their new friend, Ben Pulley, whom they met just before the game.
Johnston and Romeo said they visit IP3 often to eat pizza and watch the big games. Really, anytime there's a sports game, Johnston added.
"They create an ambience, even if there's nothing going on," Romeo said. "And you can't discount that this is the best pizza."
Sixty-three minutes into the game, Italy scored. Buzzing vuvuzelas - popular horns at this year's World Cup - filled the air, and the fans sang and cheered.
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