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For decades Daytonians have taken pizza for granted. We don’t realize that Dayton, Ohio is one of the most important cities in the world when it comes to the history of pizza. And it is all because of Vic Cassano and his mother-in-law Caroline “Mom” Donisi.
Now, 63 years later, The Cassano’s franchise is going strong, and not just in the pizza restaurants. Cassano’s headquarters on Stroop Road in Kettering is also a facility for dough production.
— SECRET 1: What most Daytonians don’t know is their dough is produced here, and sold nationwide. Whether balls of dough or sheeted pizza crusts, hundreds of restaurants serve products made with Cassano’s dough. We are not allowed to name the companies, but let’s just say they are some big wig, national restaurants, that you definitely would recognize. There are also hundreds of small restaurants that use Cassano’s, dough as a shortcut for great pizzas, calzones, breads and more.
After a year of preparation, Food Adventures is ready to tell you a story, much of which is unknown to Miami Valley residents. It is the untold insight into the dough plant, the history and personal triumphs of the Cassano family.
Before we get to secrets inside the dough plant lets get the scoop on Cassano’s history:
HERE’S THE SKINNY ON CASSANO’S
— JUNE 4th, 1953 – At the urging of a friend in New York, Vic Cassano decides to sell pizza at the Kettering grocery store of his in laws, Mom and Pop Donisi. Using a thin crust recipe developed by Mom Donisi from her days in Italy, they make pizza available for the public. It is a huge hit, and they sell 400 pies the first day on Schantz Avenue. It is Dayton’s first introduction to pizza. Needless to say the grocery store, soon became a
— SECRET 2: THIS SUMMER DATE in 1953 ALSO MARKS THE INVENTION of THIN CRUST PIZZA in THE UNITED STATES. Don’t let anyone tell you different, Dayton, Ohio is the center of that storm. That would have been a hell of a day for a Food Adventure.
— SECRET 3: Vic Cassano decides to cut the pieces in tiny squares. WHY? Because in 1953 it wasn’t “lady like” to be holding and handling big slices of pizza in your palm. Cassano’s square slices were the polite and dainty way to enjoy the Italian treat.
— SECRET 4: Vic Cassano was not only a pizza genius, he was a mechanical genius. He patented the first self cleaning oven. To this day, his family still finds dozens of papers in the office, detailing patented inventions from cooling and refrigeration systems to appliances.
— SECRET 5: Cassano’s was the first franchised restaurant in Ohio and possibly the United States. The early 50’s were a time of business and law challenges, as many scenarios were never seen before. Cassano’s was instrumental in the development of what we know today as franchising laws. This allowed Cassano’s to steadily grow in the 50’s and 60’s.
— SECRET 6: Vic Cassano’s company was the first to ever freeze dough on a large scale. He experimented with recipes and developed a full Italian menu.
— Owners of the local iconic pizza places like Marion’s Pizza and Ron’s Pizza, originally had affiliations with Cassano’s.
— In the 60’s and 70’s, Cassano’s added affiliated restaurants like Sandy’s Hamburgers and London Bobby’s Fish and Chips. They now had over 100 stores in total. They served pizza on a cardboard slate, and “to go” orders were slid into bags and crumpled at one end, while leaving a”puff” in the bag, so not to damage the pizza or its toppings.
— Here comes THE BIG CHEESE: In the early 80’s Cassano’s introduced their masterpiece pizza, the Big Cheese Pizza. This was their deluxe pizza with double the cheese on top. This became a menu staple and you can still order the Big Cheese “Vic’s Way” (with black olives) or “Mom’s Way” (with green olives). During this time, Cassano’s started serving their “to go” and delivery pizzas in boxes.
— In 1986, Vic Cassano sold the business. A year later Mom Donisi passed away. As the family saw their former business struggle in other people’s hands, so Vic Jr. decided to buy it back in 1989. It was a short hiatus and the pizza business atmosphere was saturated with saturated with national and local companies. To say it was extremely competitive is an understatement.
— With Vic Cassano Jr. at the helm, the 90’s were the start of a new, efficient direction of cutting waste and streamlining the business. It worked.
— Vic Cassano Sr passed away in 2002, at the time his son kept rebuilding the brand and would expand operations at the dough plant.
— The amazing strides and improvements in efficiency, allowed more investment in equipment. A centralized call center was finished in 2003. Vic Cassano Jr. had turned the corner and was working on bringing back some nostalgia back to Cassano’s like the Pizza King logo, the London Bobby Fish and Chips and more. In, 2010, Vic Jr. unexpectedly passed away. To his credit, he had prepared his children Lora, Chip (aka Vic the 3rd), and Chris over the past decades to take on the new leadership role. They did just that, carrying on the vision of their father and adding even more to the legendary name.
— Today, under the management of the third generation Lora Cassano-Hammons, Vic Cassano III, and Chris Cassano, there are almost 40 pizza shops and over 600 employees.
— Product developments included bringing back “Pizza Packs to go” and a new “Home Edition” Frozen Pizza line found in stores and available to be shipped nationwide. The Stroop Rd. location has gone back to carry the “London Bobby Fish and Chips” meals again.
— About 3 years ago, The Cassano’s Cares Foundation was set up. It is the charitable arm of Cassano’s set up in memory of Vic Cassano Jr. Their purpose is to give back to local charities and organizations. Memorable events included an evening with Pete Rose and a Corvette giveaway. There is also an annual golf outing to support the foundation as well. There is even a Vic Cassano Health Center on Edwin C Moses Blvd.
— In June 2016, almost 63 years to the day after the first pizza was sold, the Ohio Historical Connection declared the Cassano’s Stroop Rd. office a historical site. Now your Food Adventures on Stroop Rd, can be truly historical !
Now, let’s go from modern history to secrets inside the Dough Plant …..
INSIDE THE DOUGH PLANT:
— SECRET 7: The dough plant, located at 1700 East Stroop Rd. produces approximately 50,000 – 70,0000 pounds of dough daily. Only about 20 percent of that is for Cassano’s restaurants. The remaining 80 percent is sold to other food establishments.
— SECRET 8: The plant uses 30,000 pounds of flour each day. The facility is equipped with 2 huge flour silos that each hold 75,000 pounds of flour. WOW, this place would make Willy Wonka proud.
— SECRET 9: The plant has a capacity to produce about 8,000 pounds of dough in an hour. Depending on the size, that can equate to 100-200 dough balls per minute during the morning shift. In the afternoon shift, the plant switches gears to produce pizza crusts from 6 inches to 18 inches in diameter. The crusts are shrink wrapped to prevent breakage and boxed and loaded into a freezer or refrigerated delivery trucks.
— SECRET 10: The dough recipe has been tweaked slightly over the past 20 years. When making pizzas these days they even “tack” the dough with a docker to control bubbling of the dough. Remember those bubbles in the 70’s and 80’s on Cassano’s pies ? You don’t see those anymore.
All this talk about dough has us a bit hungry.. may Food Adventures suggest some “Must Eats” from our decades of devouring Dayton’s original thin crust pizza? CASSANOS !
— THE BIG CHEESE “VIC’S WAY”: Mounds of cheese, Pepperoni, Sausage, Mushrooms, Onions and Red & Green Peppers, Black Olives and more cheese! This is it. This is the Cadillac of the Cassano’s menu. So good, it will make you sleepy afterwards. A flavorful, filling, and unforgettable pie. As Vic used to say.. “It’s one heck of a pizza!”
— THE CLUB CASSINI: Ham, Pepperoni, Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato, Provolone Cheese and Italian dressing on a Mediterranean flat bread bun. This was a great
surprise and has such a meaty and creamy, delicious flavor. This is an unknown menu gem.
— PEPPERONI PIZZA WITH EXTRA SAUCE: The Big Ragu has been using this trick since 1986. He suggests you always order your Cassano’s pepperoni pizzas with extra sauce. They take their time and spend a little more time on your pizza.
— THE CHOPPED STEAK SUB: Get your messy groove on with this Steak patty, topped Provolone Cheese, Pizza Sauce, dripping with Mushroom Gravy, sprinkled with Onions and Banana Peppers.
— THE 30 INCH PARTY PIZZA: Get it, you only live once. Perfect for parties – birthday or super bowl. $100 gets you a deluxe and 80 bucks gets you a one topping pizza pie. This humongous pizza is a party in a box…. a pretty big box.
We are honored to be able to take a behind the scenes view at the Cassano’s pizza and dough plant. The factory employees and management are always friendly and
accommodating. Thank you for letting us see the legendary Dayton magic firsthand. Congratulations to the Cassano family on all of their accomplishments. They are a great family and we are lucky to consider them friends. We are excited to see what the future holds for this Dayton original.
Honorable Mention: The Spaghetti Dinner: Sometimes we just crave the simple pasta and sauce combo. So pure, so peasant, so good….
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