Year by year and slice by slice, Pizza House at 106 South Main St. has now served Wellington for half a century.
Owner Carmel Grissinger celebrated her business’s 50-year anniversary in August and how it has continued to thrive in the face of corporate competition and economic downturn.
“I guess when we started we were actually the first pizza place in Wellington,” she said. “We went over well right away because my mother owned a pizza place in Oberlin and her dream was to have one here in the village too. We went into business together in 1966 and it was still her dream then.”
Pizza House’s first home was a converted music store on Herrick Avenue near what is now the Wellington Veterinary Clinic, said Grissinger. The business started out in Oberlin before expanding to the village.
“My mother asked me what I thought about the idea of coming to Wellington,” she said. “I told her I’m just an employee and I’ll do whatever you tell me. My father said she was being unrealistic because there weren’t any places in Wellington for a Pizza House to go. In August of ‘66 though, we opened up here.”
The business was moved to its current home in 1972 after a Herrick-owned clothing store closed up shop. After discussions between Grissinger’s father and the Herrick family, the move was approved on the condition that no fried food would be sold due to higher insurance costs.
A family friend whose pizza place had closed down offered to provide used equipment that was in storage. That same friend went on to start Rosie’s Pizza in Lorain.
“We’ve used the same suppliers since day one,” said Grissinger. “We get all of our supplies from the same people. Many of them passed their businesses along from parent to child just like this one.”
She said consistency plays a large part in keeping a loyal customer base.
“We don’t change things,” she said. “Our product is practically identical to the day we opened. We don’t slice all of our own pepperoni or peppers anymore but everything else is the same No one knows our secret recipes. My daughter and I are the only ones that make our dough.”
Her daughter, Joan Gott, became a partner in ownership three years ago. Grissinger now leaves much of the day-to-day operations up to her while she maintains the majority of bookkeeping.
When the building went up for sale in 1993, Grissinger became her own landlord. That came after the previous building owner, who had agreed to give Grissinger the first chance to buy the property, passed away. Her father had kept an original notarized copy of that agreement, which was needed to get the deal done, she said.
“It was an eye-opener,” she said. “We didn’t know what we were going to do. My father said the store itself couldn’t buy the building so I bought it and Pizza House rented the space from me. Rent was much cheaper back then. I’ve always kept the philosophy of not making rent so high that you put people out of business.”
Many small businesses that have exited downtown Wellington in the past year, such as Village Resale, have pointed to high rent as the main culprit in closing their doors.
“This is a small town and there are only a certain amount of dollars going around,” Grissinger said. “Everyone I’ve spoken to who’s gone out of business have said it was because of high rent.”
She took many opportunities to thank customers for their continued support.
“We have great customers,” Grissinger said. “The ones we have now are the children and grandchildren of the ones we had when we opened. It’s really neat to see that. The first night we opened there was a terrible snowstorm and I thought we wouldn’t have any customers. In came two fine ladies who didn’t even live in Wellington who just wanted to be here for our first night. We’ve always had excellent customers.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Jonathan Delozier | Wellington Enterprise Owner Carmel Grissinger stands between employees Chris Gigliemotto and Vinnie Gugliemotto while celebrating the 5-year anniversary of Pizza House’s Wellington location.