Joe’s Pizza King

EricS.

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For four generations, the Lombardo family has woven a web of pizzerias in western Michigan, creating an impressive pizza dynasty that now spans 12 locations.

IMG_3601When Sicilian immigrant Giuseppe Lombardo arrived in the United States in 1957, he worked various odd jobs to make ends meet—and one of those happened to involve making pizza. After connecting with two business partners who sold supplies like cheese and pepperoni, he eventually helped out when they opened their own pizza shop in 1960, Pizza King in Wyoming, Michigan, outside of Grand Rapids.

When a number of Giuseppe’s family members from Sicily also emigrated the following year, more pizzerias were soon under way. “My great-grandfather opened Gino’s Pizza (named after his brother) in 1962, with my grandfather helping him,” explains Jim Lombardo Jr., grandson of Giuseppe and current owner of Lombardo’s Sicilian Pizza and Lombardo’s Pizzeria & Sports Bar, both in Muskegon, Michigan. “My grandfather bought the pizzeria he helped open, renaming it Joe’s Pizza King, in 1974, and added his own spin, bringing in the family sauce recipe. Today, that location is owned by my father, Jim Lombardo Sr.”

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The family now oversees 12 pizzerias under various names in western Michigan. Among these, Jim Jr.’s brother, Nick, owns two outposts of Lombardo’s Pizza, Gino’s sons expanded to multiple locations, and Jim opened his two outlets within the last three years to serve Sicilian pizzas and stromboli to Muskegon. Meanwhile, Jim Sr. maintains a superhuman work ethic; his pizza spot still stays open until 3 a.m. on weekends. “I think the older generations don’t know anything but work, and it gives them a sense of purpose,” Jim Jr. says. “No one retires in my family.”

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Jim Jr., too, absorbed the passion for pizza over many years of working in his father’s shop and carries that wealth of knowledge to his own businesses. From childhood, he helped tackle tasks like grinding cheese, folding boxes and answering phones. Today, he and his wife, Kelsey, keep their pizzerias (decorated with scores of old photos that reflect the family’s lengthy pizza history) running smoothly while catching up with customers and connecting with the local community through school sponsorships and local charity events. The couple’s own children, who are too young to be involved quite yet, are already a regular presence. “Doing every job in the pizzeria helps keep you grounded—nothing scares you when you feel like you’ve been in every situation before at least once,” Jim Jr. says. “My father encouraged us kids to find a different path than the restaurant industry, but growing up, I never wanted to do anything other than making pizza.” 

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.

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