John’s Restaurant and Pizza
When his dad wrangled him to wash dishes at the family pizzeria one night, Joe Persi, Jr. didn’t know he was signing up for a lifetime in pizza. Sound familiar?
When his father wrangled him to wash dishes at the family business one night, Joe Persi Jr. didn’t know he was signing up for a lifetime in pizza. Born in Pennsylvania to a family of Italian immigrants, Joe’s brother, John, had fled the failing steel mills for Michigan; his dad, Joe Sr., sent him to work with a cousin who owned a restaurant. John and a partner later opened John’s Restaurant & Pizzeria in Davison in 1966, only the second pizzeria in town and the first dine-in concept. When the partner wanted out in ’67, Joe Sr. moved to Michigan to take his place, and Joe Jr. soon found himself involved. “My dad just said, ‘You’re washing dishes tonight’—he didn’t ask you, he told you,” Joe Jr. recalls, laughing. “So I started washing dishes, then cooked for five years, and in 1977, I took over managing at 19.”
John moved to Arizona in 1980, and Joe Sr. passed away 20 years ago, but Joe Jr. and his wife, Tina, bought them out by the mid-’80s. In the ’90s, they moved the operation across the street, growing the business from 2,000 square feet to 3,700, including a full bar and, later, an 80-person banquet room. Today, the business supports third and fourth generations: Joe Jr.’s son, Bill, handles back-of-house matters, while daughter Lisa focuses on front-of-house, hiring and waitressing; both have been pitching in for 20-plus years, while his 16-year-old grandson tackles prep work.
“I’ll be the dishwasher, bartender, table busser—whatever you have to do,” Joe Jr. says. “Learning from the ground up is the best way. There’s no silver spoon stuff here; you learn how to do the grunt work, and you can’t tell someone what to do if you haven’t done it yourself.”
Meanwhile, Joe Jr., who once dreamed of becoming a mechanic and still drag races in his downtime, makes John’s a must-stop for the car-show scene, hosting a “tune-up party” to prep for a Flint-based event each year, plus a weekly car show on Tuesdays throughout the summer. Community involvement with fundraisers, local sports teams and charities remains a daily drive, and locals have shown their appreciation, naming John’s “best pizza in mid-Michigan” three years in a row. “Treat your employees and customers with respect; they become part of your family, and you become part of their family,” Joe Jr. advises. “The family you have with them is what brings you pleasure and makes the tougher times bearable.”