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

Family would help out with running the place, and as the popularity of the restaurant 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 the business had outgrown its original location, so the business moved down the street, 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 sprawl across Northern California. Amazingly, the entire family—now spanning several generations—is still involved with all operations. “Obviously, we’ve grown a lot,” says Vince. “But we work really hard to maintain the family atmosphere.” 

Indeed, sometimes finding the correct balance of expansion and family-style service has proved challenging. “Figuring out how to hold on 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 control every plate of food, every guest interaction. But, because we are family-owned, because we all grew up in Nonny’s pizza shack, we’re committed to staying true to her values—Italian comfort food, taking care of our employees, giving back to the community. I think those values have allowed us to remain successful.”