Grand Rapids First Pizzeria?
by Kim Rush, John Russo, and Martin Starr
When John Russo was just a little boy he watched his grandparents and his father, Frank, create experimental recipes for G.B.’s last business venture, a pizzeria, to be opened at 750 Division in 1953. “I enjoyed being one of the food testers when Grandmother created sauces. She used Moroccan snails in spaghetti sauce as well as baked cod fish with tomatoes and spiced olive oil," John remembered. Unfortunately, G.B. did not live long enough to celebrate the grand opening of the pizzeria.
It was possibly the first fast food pizzeria in Grand Rapids. The store at 750 S. Division, a former furniture store and then Old Kent Bank, was remodeled in order to meet code and turn it into Russo's Pizzeria. G.B.’s son, Frank Russo installed a neon sign, “Russo’s Italian Food Center,” meant to encompass both the grocery store and the pizzeria.
John Russo recalls, “My father decided to try making pasta again when they opened the pizzeria. He bought machines made in Italy when he went to New York to buy all the equipment for the pizzeria. He was also there to learn more about the pizza business. He planned to offer high quality ravioli to his customers. But the machines would not stay aligned properly. So we had more waste than good pasta. Because it stayed open so late, it eventually became too much for my dad to manage along with his other businesses. My dad (Frank D. Russo) gave the pizzeria business to my uncle Joe Russo and his son Frank G. Russo. Joe and his son Frank ran this pizzeria for a few more years at the S. Division location. Later their business was moved to the old Glass Hut building at Michigan and Fuller, leased from Sam Afendoulis. That business was finally sold in the 1980s.”