This Ohio pizzeria, started by old-school Italians and hustled into the 21st century by a second generation, celebrates 50 years in 2020.
In the mid-1960s, two best friends, Steve Catalano and Louie Bamonte, were running a modest tavern in Orrville, Ohio. But when the state bought the property, Louie decided to take a stab at the pizza business in nearby Akron. In 1970, they opened Regina’s Pizza, named after Steve’s daughter (also Louie’s goddaughter). They purchased a second location in 1971 but soon realized that two stores created a work overload and kept only the second, which would enjoy incredible success for decades. “Basically, they figured out the business on their own, and everything was done from scratch,” recalls Robert Catalano, son of Steve and current owner/operator. “Business was astronomical—a line of 15 cars waiting for the two parking spaces and a wait of an hour or more for pizza.”
Steve, who juggled two additional jobs, and Louie worked tirelessly in the business, and the best friends passed away in 2008 within six months of each other at the same nursing home. By then, Robert and his brother, Stephen (now a silent partner), were ready to carry the torch. They, too, tried a second location for about five years before coming to the same conclusion as their predecessors and deciding to stick with the original.
Instead, the pizzeria received major upgrades by moving locations in 2009. Two parking spots became 35, and square footage nearly tripled. The once-carryout business now offered dine-in seating and air conditioning. Robert added efficiency-boosting equipment, including larger ovens, dough sheeters and a POS system. Today, the formerly cash-only business accepts credit cards and offers third-party delivery. “I’d be creative and change with the times or be left behind,” Robert says. “When my dad and uncle started, there were maybe two pizza shops; now, there’s one every 200 yards!”
Still, Regina’s maintains its focus on quality ingredients, community involvement, and loyalty to staff members, some of whom have logged decades at the pizzeria. Louie and Steve would often dole out holiday and birthday bonuses or spend thousands on Christmas toys for children. In 2020, to celebrate 50 years, a dozen staff members will be treated to a Las Vegas vacation. And the next generation is already involved, as Robert’s 13-year-old son now pitches in at the pizzeria. “My dad and uncle kept it simple, content with what they were doing—and very much into loyalty, respect and family,” Robert says. “We’ve also learned it’s impossible to make everyone happy. You have to stick to what you do best.”
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.
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