Though its been more than 15 years since New York-born brothers Tony and Frank took over the downtown Flying Pizza from their father John and uncle Joe, the pizza has been virtually unchanged since 1971.
Frank, Tony’s junior by two years, used to cry, begging his father to take him to the restaurant because his older brother would often get picked first to tag along.
As a teenager, Tony remembers there being no other option but to go into work with dad and learn what it took to make authentic New York Style pizza.
It wasn’t until Tony was about 16, he said, that a real appreciation for what his father and uncle built began to set in.
“I started seeing the customers and how they interacted with my dad, how important he was to this place,” Tony said.
The brothers could tell story after story of their father entertaining guests, singing to the restaurant, joking around — a lot of today’s following can still be credited to their dad, according to Frank.
A while back, one particular customer came to the pizza shop to tell Frank that John unknowingly stopped him from committing suicide years ago, simply by talking to him like John did to all the regular customers.
John is now enjoying retirement and still lives in the Dayton area, though he’s still the star of the show when he visits the downtown restaurant, Tony said. The Flying Pizza founder will be at the restaurant on Oct. 1 to celebrate the anniversary with his sons.
“In the ‘70s, it was just a mad house down here,” Frank said. “Then, things died off due to economy, just due to everything. … With the ups and downs, you just never know what you’re going to get. So, my father said, ‘Just stick to the basics. Keep making good pizza and they’ll come.’”
Flying Pizza has been using the same cheese, same flour, same sauce and the same hands to make the pizza for 50 years. Frank said other employees might grate the cheese and take care of other tasks, but only him and his brother make the pizzas fly.
“Making pizza (is my favorite),” Frank said. “I love to fly. Every pizza to me is fun to fly. It’s a challenge to make every pizza that I make perfect.”
Today, three Flying Pizzas are in the Dayton area and all still owned by the family of John and Joe. In addition to downtown Dayton, locations include 421 Miamisburg Centerville Rd. in Centerville and 2640 Colonel Glenn Highway in Fairborn. At one time, six Flying Pizzas were open at once, including two restaurants in Columbus.
There’s no end in sight for the downtown restaurant and the Graci brothers. However, the next generation of Flying Pizza ownership isn’t certain. Nonetheless, Frank especially pays the unknown no mind.
“I tell myself 75 years old (before I would retire), I’m 50, that gives me 25 more years,” Frank said. “I don’t look forward and I just take it day by day... We’re always worried about tomorrow, but tomorrow’s not here yet.”
Tony and Frank Graci, sons of Flying Pizza founder John Graci, have been celebrating all year long by doing what they do best, tossing dough high above their heads and chatting merrily with loyal customers. On Oct. 1, Flying Pizza's official 50th anniversary, the restaurant will thank the community by giving away gift certificates, free T-shirts, sweatshirts and other giveaways.