From its start in 1965, this dine-in dynasty has become the epitome of Dayton-style pizza while hosting a slew of celebs—we’re talking Zsa Zsa Gabor, dahling!
Since 1938, Marion Glass had owned an ice cream and sandwich shop in Dayton, Ohio, but when he spotted increasing competition from burger-toting carhops, he sought the next big thing—pizza. In 1965, there were already 16 other pie slingers in town, but Marion noted they were carryout only. So he dove into dine-in, developing a thin-crust pizza recipe with Pillsbury and opening Marion’s Piazza, a sprawling, Italian courtyard-theme location with seating for 225. “My dad realized that a quality product was important, so he already had a great reputation in town,” recounts Roger Glass, son of Marion and current owner, with his two sisters. “The business was successful right away.”
And the pizzeria didn’t attract only locals. In 1965, a local theater company initiated Summer Stock, bringing in big-name celebs to star in a play for 12 weeks. Each week of the production, from 1965 to 1995, Marion’s hosted the cast party, serving up pies to hundreds of entertainers—including Betty White, Mickey Rooney, Barbara Eden, Joan Rivers and Zsa Zsa Gabor—whose photos now fill the walls. Over the decades, Marion’s steadily expanded to nine locations, each with seating for hundreds, while maintaining a focus on quality ingredients, edge-to-edge toppings, and warm service and ambience. “Pizza is 90% of our business, and we’re still dine-in only,” Roger says. “You can’t be everything to everyone, and by growing gradually, we’ve been able to maintain control over the product.”
It’s clearly a winning formula: The pizzerias, supplied by a commissary where dough is made fresh daily, might sell 70,000-plus pies in a period of just a few days and have won nearly 40 best-pizza awards. With ample room for large groups, Marion’s has also become part of the community fabric, hosting everything from sports teams to birthday parties while helping out dozens of high schools. And though word-of-mouth generates plenty of business, Marion’s remains active on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. The company, which ships pizzas nationwide, also offers monthly coupons and fields franchising requests from as far away as Stockholm, Sweden.
But Roger is perhaps most thankful for brightening customers’ lives through the power of pizza. “Honestly, I don’t know if we’d be successful if we just started out today, but we found our niche—and whatever we do, we do well,” he concludes. “It’s fun to make people happy and give them a great experience, to do something for others. My dad passed away in 2006, and the local paper wrote an editorial saying that Marion’s not only makes pizza, it makes memories. No one here doesn’t have memories in Marion’s.”
By Tracy Morin