The restaurant opened in December 1953, then held a grand opening on January 13, 1954. Business started out slow, but two early developments helped greatly to publicize it. First, Toney's wife Argentine charmed audiences when she appeared on local television to demonstrate how she made her lasagna. And second, the fact that the restaurant was one of the first in the area to serve beer inspired members of Midfield Baptist Church to hold a public protest, which was also covered on local television.
Once business picked up, the restaurant often remained open until the wee hours of the morning serving travelers on what was then the highway route to Tuscaloosa and New Orleans as well as multiple shifts at U.S. Steel and other plants. With the twins swapping shifts, many customers assumed that the owner never left. Carnaggio's remodeled and held another formal grand opening, for its drive-in service, on January 13, 1955.
In addition to lasagna and other pasta dishes, the restaurant featured a "meat and three" lunch, as well as short orders like hamburgers and sandwiches served to dine-in and drive-in customers. Diners in the restaurant had the use of diner-style mini-jukeboxes at each table. Carnaggio's is believed to have been the first restaurant in Alabama to serve pizza pie, which it introduced in the late 1950s. It is also remembered for its strawberry pretzel dessert.
Toney's son, Frank joined the business after his father died in 1959. He borrowed $35,000 to buy a third of the business, financing an expansion from 60 or 70 seats to 185. The restaurants' profits jumped after a Shoney's opened up across the street, luring away teenagers who had swamped the dining room for 35¢ hamburgers, and making room for bigger spenders. The development of I-20/59, however, cut into business.
Frank sold the restaurant to a woman from Clanton in 1985, but bought it back when she struggled through a few years of declining business. He sold it again to Jerry Mead in 2004. Mead, a veteran of the cafeteria at Saint Bernard College, made cosmetic improvements to the building and parking lot, but kept the same menu. In 2004 he reduced the hours to weekday lunches only, and eventually sold the building, relocating to the Piggly Wiggly shopping center at 27 Park Road, Pleasant Grove.
The original Carnaggio's building and an adjacent Chevron station were demolished to make room for a CVS pharmacy.
Zia Ahsan purchased the business shortly after the move. In 2006 he opened a second location at the former Millennium Buffet at the Quality Inn at 1485 Montgomery Highway in Vestavia Hills. Ahsan had plans to add additional locations, but both restaurants later closed.
- Plott, Bill (August 27, 1998) "Changing Hands: Carnaggio's has new owner, same menu." The Birmingham News
- Kemp, Kathy (February 1, 2004) "Carnaggio's still saucy, staying open." The Birmingham News
- Crider, Deeana (June 10, 2005) "Not exactly Italian anymore." The Birmingham News
- Harvey, Fletcher (June 30, 2006) "Familiar name moved into new location." The Birmingham News