DARIEN — Heights Pizza owner Aldo Criscuolo’s entrepreneural spirit runs in the family.

“My father is the guy who started my brother and I in the restaurant business,” the 52-year-old Darien resident said.

Criscuolo’s father grew up in the aftermath of World War II where much of southern Italy was left to fill the ills of the war. His move to New York in 1958 would spark entrepreneurial spirit and eventually lead to him owning his own pizza business.

“He had $14 in his pocket,” Criscuolo said. “He loved this country because it gave a lot of opportunity.”

His father open Nick’s Pizza in Stamford, spending time traveling between Connecticut and the Bronx, where his family lived.

“We grew up in the business,” he said.

Criscuolo’s plans initially differed from his father. At Manhattan College, he majored in biology and aimed for a career in science. However, when his uncle fell ill, he decided to help run Rowayton Pizza in Darien, his uncle’s restaurant.

“We came to an agreement that I would do it for five years,” Criscuolo said. “At that time my thinking was I’m young and I can go back to school.”

However, after running the business for his uncle, he was impassioned to open his own business in Darien. While driving to visit his brother who lived in the area, he noticed a spot on Heights Road in the Rowayton section of town.

In 1991, he opened Heights Pizza at that location.

“It’s a hard business, but it’s very rewarding.” Criscuolo said. “Having a business in town and raising a family in town is great.”

Over the years, he has watched local children grow up before his eyes, alongside his own children. He has employed many kids around town, some who have grown up and now have families of their own. He joked that whole families have worked for him on occasion.

“I feel like I have an immediate family and then I have an extended family,” Criscuolo said.

Criscuolo’s conncetion to the town is evident. Janice Marzano, executive director of programming at the Depot Youth Center, has called Criscuolo the most generous person in town. However, Criscuolo said coming into the business he understood the importance of connecting to the community.

“I learned early that it’s not only important to have a successful business, but it’s also important to give back,” he said.

Criscuolo finds it important to get involved with school programs to help the youth, and has been asked to speak to students about starting a business. He also has supported the Community Fund of Darien.

“I try to spread the help around as much as I can,” Criscuolo said.

When he started running Heights Pizza, Criscuolo made a push to make deliveries, and the store’s reputation in the community has blossomed over the years. However, Criscuolo cites one particular event in helping jump start the business.

“The Darien News did a blind pizza test,” he said. “They went to all the pizza places in town and bought the pizza. They brought the pizzas back to their office and didn’t tell staff which pizza came from where.”

Heights Pizza would go on to be ranked No. 1 in the office, and was put on the front page of the paper as the best pizza in town.

“You can’t pay for that kind of advertisement,” Criscuolo said. “The business started to grow after that quickly.”

Over the years, he makes sure his restaurant stands out by connecting to the community.

“It’s not only about business, it’s about personal relationships,” Criscuolo said. “We know our customers.”

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com, 203-842-2568