By Rachel Madison

David Sabino has been making Italian food—namely pizza—since he was just a kid. Thanks to his Italian grandfather, who spent every Sunday teaching Sabino how to make different authentic meals, Sabino’s love for Italian food runs deep. It’s also what spurred him to fulfill his dream of opening his own pizza pub last September.

Sabino, who owns the pub with his wife, Amber, moved his family to Texas from Illinois in 2014. They first landed in New Braunfels, then moved to Austin, and finally, made their way to Leander.

“It’s been a dream of mine to open a pizza shop, but life has gotten in the way, whether it was getting married, having kids or moving,” David Sabino said. “The timing never worked out right. When we moved to Leander, we felt like our roots were finally where they needed to be. We saw this development happening in early 2018, so we reached out to the developer and the pizza pub took off from there.”

Sabino’s opened at an interesting time, David Sabino said, because just as he was starting to feel his feet underneath him with the business, COVID-19 hit and changed everything.

“We had our processes down, product quality had never been better, and then COVID happened and threw everybody in the world for a loop,” he said. “We never shut down totally—we did pickup and delivery—but one benefit was that people gravitated toward pizza as an option during that time. Pizza is made to be portable, and it cooks in a 500-plus-degree oven, so it’s completely sanitary.”

Because of that, David Sabino said pizza sales remained strong while the dining room was closed. He used the downtime to take advantage of improving processes in the kitchen and streamlining efficiency.

“It gave us an opportunity to take a step back, so we took advantage to really improve our overall operations,” he said.

Now that his restaurant is fully open once again, David Sabino understands that many people are cautious to go back out, but he said his staff is ready to see a full restaurant once again.

“It’s nice that people are slowly starting to come back out for dining, but you can still enjoy our pizza via take out if you aren’t comfortable,” he said. “But there is nothing better than having people come in, relax and have a drink and some pizza.”

What sets Sabino’s apart from other pizzerias is its Chicago-style stuffed pizza, which David Sabino said “looks like an inside out pizza” and can feed a crowd. The stuffed pizza contains two layers of crust stuffed with cheese and toppings covered in Sabino’s house red sauce.

Sabino’s also offers a Chicago-style thin crust pizza, which takes the sauce all the way to the edge of the crust and is cut into square slices instead of triangles. The dough and pizza sauce for all Sabino’s pizzas are made in-house daily. The pub’s most popular pizza is called “The Meats,” which comes topped with Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, hamburger, bacon and ham.

Pizza isn’t the only thing on Sabino’s menu. The pub also serves a variety of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and rolls. Sabino’s also just added wings to its menu, effective as of mid-June.

“Our number one item aside from pizza is our Italian beef sandwich,” David Sabino said. “We get our beef from Chicago, and it’s served with options of sautéed peppers and onions, and sandwich bread we make in house.”

In addition to the restaurant, Sabino’s also has a bar, which serves 14 beers on tap, including some from local breweries like Whitestone, San Gabriel River and Bull Creek, and 10 different wines. Margaritas are also on the menu.

David Sabino said his goal with opening the pub was to be a neighborhood hangout where families could go after a baseball game, but also where a group of friends could go out for drinks and watch a game.

“I wanted a place that was comfortable taking your family, where you could get the best pizza in Texas, and enjoy sports like nowhere else,” he said. “We have 14 big screen TVs here, and we designed this place to have a family atmosphere.”

David Sabino added that his pub’s pizza ovens are 40 years old, which makes for the best pizza there is.

“They make the best pizza you can find because they are old school,” he said. “I’m a pizza purist. I don’t want to make a pizza in four minutes. I don’t believe you can make a quality pizza and churn them out that fast. It might take us longer to make one, but you’ll be happy with the pizza you get. We hand roll everything out, and everything is made fresh. It’s totally worth the 15- to 20-minute wait.”

As of now, Sabino’s motto is “Not weird, not a chain, just great pizza.” David Sabino hopes that motto will change in the future.

“I don’t want that to be our motto five years from now,” he said. “I would like to have a second and third location down the road. I’m already looking at potential sites, but not seriously yet. Right now I want to optimize what we have in our four walls here.”

Sabino’s Pizza Pub is located at 2082 U.S. Hwy. 183 in the Shops at San Gabriel Ridge in north Leander. The pub is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. For more information, visit www.sabinospizzapub.com.