- By Nancy Bowman Contributing Writer
Two of the firsts in the Dayton area pizza business are going strong more than 50 years later as they continue to follow what family members of both giants say were principles of their founders.
Cassano’s Pizza King was the first pizza shop in the Dayton area. It was founded in 1953 by Vic Cassano Sr. and his mother in law, Mom Donisi.
Cassano’s first location was at Shantz Avenue and Patterson Road, where pizza was sold out of the back of Vic’s grocery store, said Lora Cassano Hammons, Vic Cassano Sr.’s granddaughter and company community manager.
Marion’s Piazza opened its doors Aug. 19, 1965, when Marion Glass invested his life savings in the restaurant at 460 Patterson Road, also in Dayton.
It was a first for Dayton as Marion’s offered seating for more than 200 customers in the dining room. All other pizza places in Dayton at the time offered carryout but no inside dining, said Roger Glass, Marion’s son and president and CEO of Marion’s Piazza.
Founder Marion Glass developed a thin crust pizza that his son said is often referred to as “Dayton-style” pizza.
Marion Glass passed away in 2006 at age 92. The three principal owners today are the children of Marion Glass — Roger Glass, Carol Pollock and Kathi McKay — with Roger Glass running the daily operations of Marion’s Piazza.
Glass said his father selected the name because he liked the concept of an outdoor café but also realized Ohio’s climate was not conducive to that sort of operation. “He, therefore, brought the outdoors inside with an Italian ‘piazza,’ or courtyard, and thus the name Marion’s Piazza was born,” he said.
“We feel that we have been successful as a family business as we continue to practice the business principles that our father taught us,” Glass said.
Those principals, he said: “Quality, always use the finest ingredients; quantity, always give the customers their money’s worth; service, always provide the best customer service possible; and ambience, providing a clean and pleasant dining atmosphere in which people can enjoy their food.”
The first Cassano’s “was a great success and a mere five years later there were 16 Cassano’s Pizza Shops,” Cassano Hammons said.
In 1989, the company was taken over by Vic Cassano Jr., who ran the company until his death in May 2010.
The company today is owned by the third generation of the Cassano family: Chip (Vic III) Cassano, Chris Cassano and Lora Cassano Hammons. The two Cassano brothers operate the chain.
“The family has always worked well together dividing the responsibilities of the business. We were always taught by our dad that family comes first, and that is still true today. We always run things by each other before any big decisions are made,” said Cassano Hammons.
Cassano’s has 33 family-owned locations in the greater Dayton area along with five franchise locations. The company employs around 600 people.
The company also does a ‘big business” shipping its traditional crust pizzas to customers across the country, Cassano Hammons said. “Transplanted Daytonions love getting the taste of home delivered to wherever they are,” she said.
In addition to its restaurants, Cassano’s also operates a dough factory and a wholesale dough business – Cassano’s Fresh Frozen Dough.
Marion’s Piazza has nine restaurants, primarily in the greater Dayton area. One restaurant is located in Dayton. The other locations are in Northridge, Miami Twp., Centerville, Beavercreek, Englewood, Kettering, Troy and Mason in northern Cincinnati. Glass said each location employs about 30 people for around 275 employees system wide for Marion’s.
Glass said that, unlike other pizza establishments, Marion’s does not offer delivery service. Instead, it offers dining room and carry out service only. The dine in area of restaurants range from seating between 275 and 550 people each and attract sports teams, birthday celebrations, reunions, graduation parties and other celebrations, Glass said. “What truly differentiates Marion’s from other pizza restaurants is customers are able to enjoy their pizzas right from the oven in a pleasant and inviting atmosphere,” he said.
Not much has changed at Marion’s over the past half century, Glass said. “Our menu has virtually remained the same, our product has not changed and we continue to provide outstanding service,” he said.
Although Marion’s doesn’t offer delivery it has shipped thousands of pizzas throughout the country to former customers who moved from the area, Glass said.
One thing that has changed is people do not eat as late at they once did, Glass said. Where the restaurants at one time stayed open until 1:30 a.m., they now close at 11 p.m.
Although competition has increased tremendously, sales and pizza counts have increased steadily each year. “I guess that is a good thing,” he said.
Cassano’s is one of the only chains in the area to use an in-house call center for ordering, Cassano Hammons said.
The business focuses on itself, she said. “We at Cassano’s know what our competition is doing, but we concentrate our energies on our own business and what we need to do to continue to be successful,” she said.
In recognition of its 50th anniversary this year, Marion’s Piazza held two anniversary sales.
In one, customers had five days to purchase up to two pizzas at a 50 percent discount. During that time, 66,000 pizzas were sold.
The second event was a “back to the 1965 price” sale with pizzas ranging from 80 cents for a small cheese to a large deluxe for $2.50. The nine locations sold more than 23,000 pizzas during that one day, Glass said.
Another slice of company history is Marion’s Piazza’s long-standing relationship with the Kenley Players Theater (1966-1995). The theater brought Hollywood stars to town and to Marion’s Piazza on Wednesday evenings for a cast party. Among those who visited were Betty White, Mickey Rooney, Sally Field and Henry Winkler, Glass said.