YOUR HOMETOWN: A Mexican Twist On An American Favorite

Couple Brings Toppings, Recipes From Native Land To New City Pizza Place

Posted: April 23, 2014

Marcelino Emigdio-Atanacio adds sausage to a pizza ready for the oven Monday at his recently opened restaurant, Benami’s Mexican Style Pizza, on South High Street. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
Emigdio-Atanacio stands with his wife, Benami Torres-Cruz (right), at their business. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)

HARRISONBURG — After a bit of arm twisting, Benami Torres-Cruz agreed to her husband’s suggestion that the couple open a restaurant because she knew she could count on the product being appetizing.

“Especially using my name,” she said.

Benami’s Mexican Style Pizza opened in early March at 1059 S. High St. Its owners hope to capitalize on people’s cravings for pizza and a willingness to explore “something different,” they say.

What separates the pizza they offer from other pies available in Harrisonburg is the toppings: refried beans, avocado, jalapenos, Mexican sausage, chipotle sauce and more.

Torres-Cruz’s husband, Marcelino Emigdio-Atanacio, 37, operated a pizza place in their native Mexico.

“It’s what I know how to cook best,” he said.

His wife brings additional business acumen: She’s worked at the Wendy’s restaurant on South Main Street for 19 years, mostly as general manager.

“[It’s helped] especially when it comes to customers, what they expect,” said Torres-Cruz, 36.

Along with pizza, Benami’s offers Mexican subs, soups, tamales, beverages and desserts. The owners are working on obtaining their ABC license.

A private room is also available for parties of up to 30 on request.

Luigi’s Pizza closed at the South High location in 2007 after nearly three decades in business. The building housed a Tastee Freez before Luigi’s.

Napoli Ristorante Italiano opened in 2008 at the site and closed earlier this year.

Torres-Cruz is unfamiliar with the building’s history — “I don’t really go out much,” she said — but she will gladly adopt the popularity of Luigi’s. She wants “better income” for her family, which includes two children, but it took her a while to settle on a restaurant in her name as the route to it.

“I’m a little scaredy-cat. I’m afraid to do things on my own,” Torres-Cruz said. “We’ve been talking about [a restaurant] for two, three years.”

Benami’s is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or

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