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Tony’s Pizza going strong after 59 years

By Valerie Phillips - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Apr 6, 2022
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Tina Sanchez, daughter of founder Tony Toscan, poses with a Tony's Combo at Tony's Pizza.
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A Tony's Combo pizza is loaded with pepperoni, sausage, ham, mushrooms, green peppers and green olives.
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A hot meatball sandwich at Tony's Pizza.
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Rigatoni is the most popular pasta served at Tony's Pizza.
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Tina Sanchez, daughter of founder Tony Toscan, poses with a Tony's Combo at Tony's Pizza.

When Tony Toscan opened Tony’s Pizza on Oct. 5, 1963, he didn’t have much cooking experience. But he did have his Italian mother’s spaghetti sauce. Anna Toscano would make a gallon of it every day, and he would pick it up from her on his way to the restaurant, said Toscan’s daughter, Tina Sanchez.

“He always said that when he first opened, he just hoped he could stay open for six months,” said Sanchez, who is running the restaurant that’s still open almost 59 years later.

The world has changed since 1963, but Tony’s hasn’t.

It’s in the same location at 403 39th St., with the same “Tony’s” sign on the brick building.

“Our menu is the same as day one; we’ve not added to it and we’ve not taken away from it,” Sanchez said. “If it’s not broken, you don’t fix it. We don’t have anything on our menu that’s not popular, because it’s so basic and so small.”

It features pizza, four hot sandwiches and four pastas.

“When I see restaurants with so many pages of a menu, I wonder how do you have that many items and keep them all fresh?” Sanchez said. “With a small menu, we can keep our quality high and our prices lower because we don’t have any waste.”

The pizza menu is simple: You can order plain cheese or a Tony’s Combo, or choose from a list of classic toppings such as pepperoni, green peppers, mushrooms, onions, ham, pineapple, ground beef, green and black olives, and Italian sausage. Anchovies, shrimp and jalapeños cost a little extra.

Tony’s Combo is the top-seller — a thin-style crust loaded with pepperoni, sausage, ham, mushrooms, green peppers and green olives. Those green olives are a Tony’s tradition.

“There have always been green olives on the pizza. People either love them or they don’t,” Sanchez said. “Black olives and pineapple were the only two toppings that we added over the years. We caved to the high demand for them.”

The cheese topping is a mix of five different cheeses. “We use four different kinds of mozzarella, and one provolone,” Sanchez said. “We’ve always done it that way.”

Of the four hot sandwiches (pastrami, meatball, sausage and hamburger), the meatball sandwich is the definite favorite.

The rigatoni is the most popular of the four pastas (spaghetti, rigatoni, cheese ravioli or cheese tortellini).

The entrees can be accompanied by a simple iceberg lettuce salad tossed with the house Italian oil-and-vinegar dressing. (The dressing is also sold by the pint.) Don’t bother asking for ranch.

“We have our house dressing, and we don’t offer any other,” Sanchez said. “People either come for it, or they don’t order it.”

Although the dining room has a number of tables, Sanchez said the majority of the business is takeout. When the COVID pandemic hit and the dining room was forced to close, they offered curbside service.

“Thanks to our customers, they supported us the entire time,” she said. “We have the best customers. Eighty percent of them come in weekly, the same night of the week, and order the same thing. They say they came here with their grandma and now they’re bringing in their own grandkids.”

Founder Tony Toscan grew up in Ogden. His parents, Philip and Anna Toscano, had both immigrated from Italy, Sanchez said. They met and married in Ogden.

“They dropped the ‘o’ off of their last name when Tony and his brother were in school. I’m not sure why. Maybe to fit in more,” Sanchez said.

Toscan was working as a salesman for the Swift meatpacking plant when he opened the restaurant. At first, he kept his day job and ran the restaurant after work, so it was only open for dinner.

His wife, Carolyn, and her mother, Bobby Thomas, were the two servers, “and he had a buddy that helped him run the kitchen,” Sanchez said.

Over the years, the restaurant expanded to about triple the original size. Toscan rented the building at first, then purchased it.

Today, two of Sanchez’s children work at the restaurant, “but all of our employees are like family,” she said. “Finding help is the No. 1 challenge everywhere these days. We are lucky because we have so many employees who have been here for years. You wouldn’t think they would stick around 15 years for a part-time job, but they have.”

Today, pizza is as much an American staple as burgers or hot dogs. But back when Tony’s opened in 1963, it wasn’t nearly as mainstream. According to food historians, Italian “pizza pie” was mainly served in Italian-American neighborhoods before World War II. Then U.S. soldiers stationed in Italy came home with a desire for the Italian cuisine they had enjoyed overseas.

Local pizza parlors began springing up across America, and chain restaurants followed. Little Caesars was founded in 1957, Pizza Hut in 1958 and Dominos in 1960.

It’s hard to say who was the first to sell pizza in Ogden. But at least one restaurant, Rigo’s, owned by Italian immigrant Rigo Del Carlo, was serving it in the 1950s. An old Standard-Examiner advertisement said Rigo’s, at 2788 Washington Blvd., opened in 1954, and a 1957 ad touts the restaurant’s pizza.

Although Rigo and his restaurant have passed on, Wynn Phillips of Pleasant View remembers working there as a teen from 1959-61, delivering and making pizzas. Palmieri’s is another long-gone Italian restaurant on Washington Boulevard thought to have served pizza in the late 1950s.

Also, Circle Inn Pizzeria in Clearfield (which was recently destroyed by a fire) opened in 1957.

So by the time Tony’s opened in 1963, many Northern Utahns were somewhat familiar with pizza.

Over the years, the competition of big chains forced many small pizzerias to close, but Tony’s maintained its strong customer base. For a while, there was a Pizza Hut across the corner from Tony’s, said Sanchez, adding, “But we’re still here and they’re not.”

She began working at the family restaurant from junior high through high school and college. After college, she taught school while still working part-time at Tony’s. Then, about 25 years ago, she took a one-year leave of absence from teaching to help her dad run the restaurant after he had heart surgery. She never did go back to teaching, and continued to work with Tony, who passed away in 2015.

“This is not what I thought I would be doing at this age, but this is where my heart is,” Sanchez said.


IF YOU GO

Location: 403 39th St., Ogden

Contact: 801-393-1985

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday

Price range: $6.50 (sandwich) to $15.20 (large Tony’s Combo pizza)

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