There are a multitude of really cool things about The Original Pizza Place – its history, its family ties and its delicious food. However, the coolest aspect might just be the owner, Mike Ruscitto and his daughter, Kasandra Pritchett who serves as the Customer Relations and Public Relations Manager. Walking into The Original Pizza Place, it’s not out of the ordinary to see them both working in the front making pizzas or helping customers. Mike’s Brooklyn accent and Kasandra’s fast-paced work ethic are exactly as expected in this pizza by the slice restaurant that calls the Mid-Ohio Valley home. Their hands-on approach really lays the cornerstone of the business. That, and their commitment to excellent food with the best ingredients and excellent business practices with the best team members.
Mike Ruscitto grew up in Brooklyn, New York with two Italian immigrant parents who often opened their homes to relatives from Italy who wanted a new start.“At the time, the late 60s, we had some relatives that would come from Italy and stay. Immigration wasn’t what it is today, and people would just come to this country for work – some to better their lives and some were just looking for a change. That took place several times. I remember being 17 and 18 and sometimes even having to give up my room to them,” he said.
One year, a family came over to stay and there were three brothers. Mike described them as hard workers who all got jobs in the pizza business and became pretty successful. Following that, his uncle through marriage came to his house and did the same thing. He started working at a pizzeria, learned the pizza business and opened a store in Long Island. A little while after opening, he needed help running the store. Mike was in-between college and jobs, so he decided to lend a hand.They shared a dream of expansion and opening another store. So, they decided to become partners in a second store, but they knew they didn’t want to stay in that area. Having some connections in the Pennsylvania area, they began to look at Pittsburgh as a potential location. Pittsburgh didn’t pan out, but one of the companies they spoke with had space available in The Grand Central Mall which had only been open about a year.
“The pizzeria in the mall was poor performing and the operator wanted out so that’s how the opportunity came about. We drove down, looked at the store and decided that it was a good opportunity for us – that was November 1976 and we opened Dec. 1,” he said.Moving the Mid-Ohio Valley was surprisingly easy for Mike and he made life-long friends in the process of opening the business and moving into an apartment – all of which happened in the span of a week.
Mike and his team immediately started operations in the new location. The old pizza restaurant stayed until Thanksgiving, making that Dec. 1 opening date ambitious. The team sold pizza during the day and worked on updates during the night. Changing counters and other small repairs happened after hours.
Sicilian pizza caught on really good here too – not everywhere is it as accepted, or as well liked. We were very fortunate to hit a niche.
The Original Pizza Place not only brought a new business to the area, but a new style of business as well. Trading waitresses for counter ordering, they introduced fast casual dining into the area.“Nobody sold pizza by the slice here – anywhere in the MOV. With the minimal downtime, we opened up and converted the store to a fast casual. We had to change the whole mindset in the mall. As time went on, it caught on. Sicilian pizza caught on really good here too – not everywhere is it as accepted, or as well liked. We were very fortunate to hit a niche,” Mike said.
Two years later, the business had seen enough success for Mike’s uncle to move down to the Mid-Ohio Valley and start working here too. His uncle called his brother from Italy to partner and take over operations in the Long Island store so he and Mike could focus on growing locally.And grow they did. Taking on another partner, they decided to open the Dudley Avenue location in 1979. They purchased the Dudley Avenue location because of the open lunch at PHS and the growing client base from the mall. The unique architecture of the location exists because they converted a Union 76 gas station into the pizzeria.
“We did the whole design work – we did it all ourselves – we didn’t have an architect or anything. We used a local contractor to do the work, remove the tanks and it was a lot of work. Then, when that store opened, we sold the Long Island store because we didn’t need it anymore,” he said.So, they moved his uncle’s brother and another young man who worked in the Long Island location to the Mid-Ohio Valley. The young man started washing dishes and ended up as a full partner with the South Side location which opened in 1981. Shortly after, they moved into the Bridgeport Mall with a store as well.
As the business grew, opportunity popped up in Myrtle Beach. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! had decided to sublease their building to allow for a restaurant. Once this went in, patrons would exit the museum into a pizza and fried chicken joint. This only lasted a few months as they were completely overwhelmed and unable to keep up with the demand.
Mike only saw opportunity in the high-risk investment as he added another location to the business.“A ‘for rent’ sign went up, but we knew it was high risk because it was seasonal. You have to pay rent in six months. But, it was a turn key operation. Lot of work, okay store, lots of people visited from MOV. It became a late night restaurant – hours were very long,” Mike said.
Always supporting his local roots, Mike brought employees from the Mid-Ohio Valley to work in the store at Myrtle Beach. Jokingly, Kasandra compared it to The Jersey Shore.
“You couldn’t find help there so we brought them down and gave them room and board. They worked a salary. When you’re an 18 or 19-year-old kid it was a good opportunity,” Mike said.Around this time, 25 years since it all began, the partners decided to restructure and divide the assets. Mike ended up with the mall store and the Myrtle Beach location. Myrtle Beach became a tough store for Mike alone, so when the lease ended around 2000, he left Myrtle Beach.
“I ran the mall alone for a number of years, but I had a lot of guys come through the store with nowhere to go so basically we would train them and lose them. I knew Marietta was always a good market, we had built the Marietta market from the mall. We had a good customer base. We had the staff and made the move to open here in 2012,” Mike said.During this transition, Kasandra returned home from college at High Point University where she had majored in Business Administration with a double minor in Entrepreneurship and Chinese. As of her senior year in college, she had planned to open a home health franchise in North Carolina and she never intended to work in the family business, but a series of events brought her back.
“He came here [Marietta] and at the same time, he needed my help to open up. Things were backed up and I was trying to help him and open my own business. We just needed to give something up because he was going to help me, too. So we ended up giving up the opportunity in NC and I came back here. The environment I was brought up in was the pizza business and I realized that’s where I belonged,” she said. “I took on a role in marketing, community outreach, accounting and bookkeeping. I did a lot of training and operations support. As time went on, we brought in different people and the roles change as we grow.”They selected their current location because they thought it would be opportune for the lunch crowd. Previously, the restaurant had been multiple offices, but they saw the potential. Now, the restaurant serves as a home base for their community outreach within the Mid-Ohio Valley.
So you give back and want to shine a light on the good that’s going on here. It’s a secret living here, the grass looks greener somewhere else, but we’ve been other places and we’re happy with it here.
“We try to be very community oriented and do a lot of projects with the community. The Mid-Ohio Valley has been my home since 1976. My kids were born and raised here. I felt that I was very well accepted and they accepted our product very well, it’s made me and our company successful. So you give back and want to shine a light on the good that’s going on here. It’s a secret living here, the grass looks greener somewhere else, but we’ve been other places and we’re happy with it here,” Mike said.Looking forward, Mike partners with Kasandra concerning certain areas of the business. He admits it’s very tough working with the new generation as a traditional businessman. With the help of Kasandra and the technology presented at a major pizza trade show, The Original Pizza Place is swooping in with the latest gadgets.
“When I first started, I wanted to bring in technology and he was adamant that we wouldn’t. It was difficult for him to get all new stuff here, but we ended up going with the best computer system for pizza. He’s really old-school – it took a year before they introduced online ordering because he didn’t think anyone would order pizza online, but it’ really grown since then,” she said.Even if there are generational gaps, Mike strongly believes in hiring young employees and giving them an opportunity to grow within his business and the community.
“Kids need that experience – it’s part of maturing, there’s responsibility in there. They come for the independence, so this gives them that while growing up. You’re certainly a role model when they come in here and we try to teach them values that we have. When we get the kids, they work for us, go to college and often come back. It’s a very positive atmosphere to learn and grow – I can’t tell you how many are doctors and lawyers now,” Mike said.The family-oriented environment truly starts at home for Mike and Kasandra. Kasandra describes her and her dad as “really close,” but admits that it can be difficult working for her dad just because “when your dad is your boss because you feel like you can say “no” or really tell them what you think is going to work. In a typical job, you just have to do what they [the boss] want, but we can share ideas and feelings even if we’re not on the same page. We do eventually get on the same page and it helps the business grow,” she said.
Becoming part of the family business has truly allowed Kasandra to see that the Mid-Ohio Valley is where she and her family plan to call home.“We want to stay here because this is where our roots for our family are. That’s really important to us. It’s more important than what museums you can take your kids to, or what concerts are going to be in your area. We could easily move, my husband works in Columbus, but we stay here because this is where our family is. That value is what I’ve gotten from my dad and our work. He could easily expand and go somewhere else, but the Mid-Ohio Valley has accepted him and that’s where he’s decided to give back. He’s instilled that value in me and this is where we’re meant to be,” she said.
As a small business owner, Mike never had a lot of time to work on the business because he was always working in the business. Bringing in Kasandra has allowed the business to grow and allowed Kasandra to see what her dad went through as she was growing up.“My dad was always working. He had to work in his store from open to close so he wasn’t always there. As an adult, and I get a chance to be there with him and see what he gave up and sacrificed. It’s made me understand more. He is the lifeblood of this business. That’s a small business – If you’re not there, it doesn’t work. You have to care the most when you invest so much, with so much passion,” Kasandra said.
Forward thinking is important to The Original Pizza Place as they look toward the future. They plan to continue to be the best they can be and show that to the customers, while still remaining true to their roots as a small, family-owned pizzeria that calls the Mid-Ohio Valley home.