The third-generation owners of this Michigan cult favorite are banking on slow but steady growth, with two new locations set to launch this summer.

Thomas Vettraino and his wife, Irene, opened Green Lantern Tavern in Madison Heights, Michigan, in 1946. But the little hole-in-the-wall tavern really hit its stride in 1955, when it turned into Green Lantern Pizza, thanks to the success of its patrons’ favorite drink accompaniment. “In a small community like Madison Heights, Green Lantern was a hit from the beginning,” says marketing director Chris Fichter, who also owns a location in Clinton Township. “And we’re still known as one of the best pizza places in town. We’ve built such a cultlike following.”

By 1984, the couple’s daughter, Marlene, and her husband, John Spreitzer Sr., took over the operations. But their sons, John Jr. and T.J. (Thomas), were the ones to start expansion in 2004, opening the brand’s first delivery and carryout store in Royal Oak, Michigan. Two more would follow in 2013—one dine-in and one DELCO in Clinton Township. By continuing to open another store every two to three years, the brand has grown to seven locations, with two more scheduled this June and July. “Every one of our restaurants is very high-volume, but we have a slow, steady growth model,” Fichter notes. “John and T.J. took over basically after high school, and they’re workhorses.” Their sister’s husband, Pete Rodriguez, is also on board in the third-generation family affair.

With its Detroit-suburb origins, Green Lantern serves a mean square, but it’s actually known for its Original Round pies, featuring thick-cut pepperoni, fresh-made dough and sauce, and cheese shredded on-site. “When people in this area crave pizza, they crave Green Lantern,” Fichter says. “We’re a craft pizza. Even when we open a new location, we don’t have to do any marketing—that’s how good our word-of-mouth is. If your product isn’t good, people aren’t gonna come back, so the fact that we’ve been making pizzas since 1955 speaks for itself.”

Despite its reputation, the pizzeria mixes up its advertising with traditional direct mail and active social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In recent years, the company has adopted 21st-century technologies, like online ordering, SEO, geofencing, and a new POS system that allows for incredibly detailed statistical breakdowns and highly successful email marketing campaigns to more than 110,000 subscribers. “We’re not really a coupon-based company, and we’re pricier than others, but you get what you pay for,” Fichter explains. “T.J. and John choose franchising partners who are in-store, active owner-operators, because it’s all about the power of consistency. We believe that slow and steady wins the race—or, as we say, ‘One slice at a time.’”  

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor and the editor of

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