Time capsule: Mary’s Pizza Shack

In 1959, Mary Fazio wisely took this casual advice from a friend: “You make suchgood pizza; you should open a restaurant.” The friend’s husband lent Mary one ofhis vacation cottages and, with help from her husband and son Toto, she quicklyset up Mary’s Pizza Shack (maryspizzashack.com) in Boyes Hot Springs, California,with $600 in savings and the pots and pans from her own kitchen. “She justloved working in the original shack,” recalls Vince Albano, CEO of Mary’s PizzaShack and grandson of Mary. “She had it set up so that the kitchen was open tothe dining room, and she’d sit and make her pizza and pasta, taking care of customersand singing to herself.”

Family would help out with running the place, and as the popularity of therestaurant grew, more relatives quit their jobs to work at Mary’s full-time. Eventually,after nearly 20 years of successful service, the family realized that thebusiness had outgrown its original location, so the business moved down thestreet, and sales tripled in the first six months. Then, in 1980, Toto’s new son-in-law encouraged a second location, and today 18 Mary’s Pizza Shacks sprawlacross Northern California. Amazingly, the entire family—now spanning severalgenerations—is still involved with all operations. “Obviously, we’ve growna lot,” says Vince. “But we work really hard to maintain the family atmosphere.”

Indeed, sometimes finding the correct balance of expansion andfamily-style service has proved challenging. “Figuring out how to holdon to your culture while expanding is really difficult,” Vince admits.“Especially when it’s a family company, it’s hard to not be able to controlevery plate of food, every guest interaction. But, because we arefamily-owned, because we all grew up in Nonny’s pizza shack, we’recommitted to staying true to her values—Italian comfort food, takingcare of our employees, giving back to the community. I think thosevalues have allowed us to remain successful.”