Long before multiple national chains invaded the Dayton area, Ron Holp was one of the original instigators of the “pizza wars” in the Miami Valley.
In fact, it was Holp’s bold move to start a competing chain to Cassano’s in 1964 that nearly landed him in jail and several months in court fighting over the dough made for his popular pizza restaurants.
Holp, now 83 and still opening the door to his Miamisburg restaurant at 6 a.m. seven days a week, famously started his pizza-making shop, Ron’s Pizza, on St. Patrick’s Day.
What’s not so well known is that Holp operated a Cassano’s location from 1960 to 1964 in Miamisburg at the same time that Marion Glass, the legendary founder of Marion’s Piazza, operated a franchise for Vic Cassano Sr., the original owner of the popular Dayton pizza joint.
The first Christmas Holp operated the Cassano’s, Vic Cassano Sr. stopped by his house and gave him a bottle of Ancient Age Whiskey and a punchbowl to his wife.
“I still drink that today. Vic was the person who introduced it to me,” Holp said.
That friendly relationship would become strained three years later.
Knowing that her husband wanted to open his own place, Holp’s late wife, Abbie, worked for months to perfect a dough recipe that was almost identical to the Cassano’s variety. When Abbie perfected it, Holp opened his Ron’s Pizza while still operating the Cassano’s franchise — and that’s when trouble began for the long-time Miamisburg business owner.
Soon after the opening, a friend came into his store and told Holp the rumor spreading around Dayton was an arrest warrant had been issued for him. He wasn’t arrested, but the sheriff did talk to him about his new store and the pizzas it was making.
“Vic was pretty upset about what I had started,” Holp said.
The dough Abbie made was so close to the Cassano’s variety that Vic Cassano Sr. sued Hop claiming he was taking Cassano’s dough and using it in the Ron’s restaurant. In court, Holp won the case, but the judge ordered him to continue to operate his Cassano’s franchise for another year before he could sell it.
“It was pretty intense. The headline in the newspaper was ‘Pizza Wars’ at that time. I can remember sitting in that courtroom and sitting across from Vic and Marion (Glass),” Holp said.
Following the trial, Glass went into business for himself and started Marion’s Piazza on Patterson Road in Dayton. Holp said Glass wanted him to sell his dough for Marion’s crust.
“I told him I didn’t want to get sued again, but I had Abbie show him how to make the dough,” Holp said.
More than 52 years later, Holp still runs two restaurants and a warehouse in Miamisburg where they make doughs, sauces and sandwiches for 15 to 20 pizza-making establishments in the Miami Valley. At his peak, Holp ran five pizza shops in the southern Dayton area.
The Dayton area and the rest of Ohio love their pizza as shown by the disproportionately large number of pizza restaurants and carry-outs. According to IBISWorld, a Los Angeles-based independent industry research firm, Ohio has 3.7 percent of the U.S. population, but supports 5.4 percent of the nation’s pizza restaurants.
In a March 2015 analysis of the national pizza market, IBISWorld projected that overall revenues will grow 2 percent a year on average to $43.4 billion by 2020. That level of growth would be significantly higher than the 0.2 percent average revenue increase of the five years from 2010-2015.
The competition has not scared off Holp.
“We still make the same dough. In fact, if you want to know what the original Cassano’s pizza tasted like you should have a Ron’s pizza. We haven’t changed. We still pinch the pork sausage for our pizzas and cook it raw at the same time everything else is cooking,” Holp said.
Holp said many people claim St. Louis is where square-cut pizza originated, but he believes it was started in Dayton.
“It started at Cassano’s, and we and Marion’s kept it on our pizzas,” Holp said.
On Wednesday, Holp was checking on customers after a morning of looking over the company books and making sure his employees were getting paid for the week. Patrons Elaine Stuck and Mary Ann Mote said its that personal touch is what keeps them coming back.
“I think they call it networking today. We used to call it shooting the bull back in the day,” Holp said with a laugh.
Ron’s employs about 50 employees. Three of Holp’s four children — Abbie, Paul, and John — work in the business. His son, Tim, works in the restaurant business in Alabama. At one point the company had 150 employees.
“I had to hand-write checks every Thursday night. It was a true pain. Much easier today,” Holp said.
While they have the same recipe, Holp is always open to new items for his customers. He said his kitchen counter is the best place to do his taste tests.
“Whenever we have think we have a new item, I take it home and let it sit overnight on my kitchen counter. That’s when I give it a taste, and if it still has good flavor, we keep it. Think about how many times you have left pizza out on the counter? If it tastes good in the morning, you’re more likely to buy it the next time,” Holp said.
That’s what makes Ron himself an original Miamisburg icon.
“He has been great for our town,” said Jack Sperry, owner of the Hamburger Wagon in Miamisburg.