Dayton’s first bite of pizza came from the back of a Kettering grocery store.
Vic Cassano Sr., the son of Italian immigrants, and his mother-in-law, Caroline “Mom” Donisi, started Dayton’s first pizza shop. Cassano’s Pizza King opened in a 20-by-15 foot room at West Schantz Avenue and Patterson Boulevard in 1953.
Known locally at the start as “Vic & Mom’s,” the restaurant was built was the tireless work of the family, including Cassano’s wife, Anne.
“It was my mom and grandma who stayed up late at night, rolling dough and making tomato sauce and slicing pepperoni,” the couple’s daughter Cindy Cassano McElroy told the Dayton Daily News in 2008.
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Photographs in the Dayton Daily News archive captured Cassano taste-testing the square-cut pizza piled with toppings to ensure the taste and quality.
The pizza was popular with Dayton palates. Five years after the back-room start, there were 16 Cassano’s pizza shops in the area.
A 1965 Dayton Daily News article made special note of the opening of the 30th store at 2178 N. Gettysburg Avenue.
The “new pizza house with Italian décor” was described in the story as a training center for the rapidly expanding chain and the template for things to come.
Draft beer was available at the new site, as was a venue for live entertainment. A Centerville folk-singing group, “The Ten of Us” helped kick things off.
People couldn’t get enough of the Pizza King’s combinations of pepperoni, sausage and cheese. The company grew to 125 stores over the following three decades, and by the 1970s the company ranked in the top four pizza chains in the country.
“The fun of the free enterprise system is that you can go as far as you want if you are willing to offer a little more than the average person,” Cassano Sr. told the Dayton Daily News in March 1974.
A few years after Cassano Sr. retired in 1986, his son Vic Cassano Jr. bought the company. Today the third generation runs the company.
More than 60 years after it was founded, Cassano’s Pizza King has been honored by the State of Ohio with a historical marker outside the company headquarters in Kettering. The marker commemorates the pizza chain’s contribution to the state’s history.
“This is in honor of our grandfather and our dad,” current CEO Vic (Chip) Cassano III said at the June 3 ceremony. “It’s for all the work and innovations they did.”
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