James Beard just gave out a James Beard award to 6 timeless restaurants all across the nation. The America’s Classics category was introduced by the foundation back in 1998. Winners are typically more than a decade-old, often family-owned, and distinguished by “quality food that reflects the character of their communities.” America’s Classics contenders aren’t necessarily restaurants in the running for other Beard awards (honors typically reserved for more formal restaurants).
At the same time, there was also news about a Rochester classic. Championship Dining (Hot Chip Burger Bar, Porch, Hot Chip Vegan, Lettuce Unite, and Guerita’s Window) has acquired one of Rochester’s favorite pizza places, Mr. Pizza North. And who knows…perhaps a future James Beard classic winner! We vote, yes.
Mr. Pizza began in 1963 when Mark Fulton’s dad was in the family kitchen, putting together a pizza from a box for his family. It was a little gem from Chef Boy Ar Dee and was a life changer for the midwest. And a life changer for Mark’s dad, who, while perfecting this at home, thought to himself, I could make this a business. And so he did. In 1963 Mr. Pizza was operated in the small shopping center right behind Daubes Bakery (then Carters Country Kitchen). For many of us growing up in Rochester, it was the first ‘real’ pizza we ever had. We grew up loving it; in fact, in 1982, we had Mr. Pizza deliver pizzas late night to our wedding reception. Believe me, in 1982, that was unheard of. A forever fond memory was made, and our reception was the talk of the family for a few years.
Mr. Pizza continued as a family run business all the way through 2019. It was then Mark decided it was time to kick back and enjoy the grandkids. When we found out that one of Rochester’s beloved icons was up for sale, we quickly thought through various future possibilities. Mainly, would someone buy it and completely change almost 60 years of tradition? We needed that pizza, especially on our anniversary!
After a couple of Championship Dining meetings with the main discussion being, we knew the importance of small family-run businesses. We knew we wanted to preserve this pizza tradition.
For those of you that have never been to Mr. Pizza, we encourage you to step back in time. Pizza comes in many forms; we love wood-fired Neopolitan styles, Chicago deep dish, and an occasional frozen hockey pizza. Nope, just kidding on that one. But there is room for many favorites. Mr. Pizza’s slightly smoky crust comes from a wonderfully seasoned oven, add traditional toppings, making it a real classic that will never go out of style. Thank goodness Sharon had a favorite because it’s one of ours!
For those that are fearful, we will change things. We are NOT. Our senior advisor Jerry Zubay is going to be around doing boring behind the scenes stuff. PM me if you want details. The real perk here is the meat of the pizza, and that is the Championship Dining successors and owners, Justin Schoville and Lindsay Zubay. Justin’s meticulous organization in the kitchen will help day to day operations run even more smoothly. Lindsay will make sure all the paperwork lands in the correct laps so the business will continue to run efficiently and flourish. She also makes FOH training not only informational but pretty fun. Don’t worry your pretty little heads over the cheesecake. It stays along with Heather Fulton Jacobson. Her beautiful desserts and large array of other fabulous treats, may just pop up at our other locations! All staff remains the same, and the recipes are secured.
There’s just one thing that will change. Mark Fulton’s big smile, his ready handshake, and cheerful hello’s. Those can not be replaced. Along with Mr. Pizza staff, we wish him good health, plenty of relaxation, and time to do his favorite things.
Championship Dining is honored to continue the Mr. Pizza traditions. Thank you for welcoming us.
If you’re interested in reading about the James Beard Classic clink here.