I was in the newsroom of the Logan Banner one day reminiscing during the late 1970s when I served as sports editor of the Banner. It had been a few years since I had left Huntington, West Virginia, where I had been a student at Marshall University and an employee in that city at Gino's Pizza Parlor and Pub on 5th Avenue. I suppose on this particular day, I was thinking about my days at the Pub on what was a lazy afternoon on Stratton Street.
I've actually done a lot of different types of work in my lifetime, starting at the age of 16 as a part-time janitor at Verdunville Grade School for $1.45 per hour. I've worked at Kroger's, a machine shop at Switzer, the Logan County sheriff's department, the county's assessor's office and for over 18 years now at my present position as one of three Logan County magistrates.
It should be understood that one must take the good and the bad with any profession, and I can honestly say - from the newspaper work to sweeping the rooms out at the grade school each day after arriving home from high school; to covering sports at Man, Logan, Chapmanville, Sharples, Gilbert and Harts - I strived to do the best job possible. However, I've also got to admit that making pizzas and serving pitchers of foamy draft beer at the Pub just may have been my most enjoyable occupation.
Pulling pizzas and sandwiches from a 700-degree oven at a rapid pace on a very busy Saturday night at the Pub left a few scars on my arms, but I regret nothing about those fun times when cleaning off the picnic-like tables in the popular restaurant was simply part of the job.
The truth is that if you hailed from Logan, Mingo or Boone counties and applied for a job at Gino's Pub, you likely were going to be hired. Kenny Grant, now in his 90s and still working, started the Gino's franchises that can be found in many places in West Virginia, including, of course, Logan. And when I was hired at the Huntington location, a fellow named Bob McClellan was the manager. Born and raised somewhere in the Man area, I must say Bob was one heck of a personality.
To mention a few former employees at Gino's Pub while they attended Marshall University, is to name former Logan school board member and Man area businessman Bob Wolfe, former Logan magistrate and businessman Steve Gray, as well former Logan High instructor Mike Watson, who I like to refer to as my Logan High School "historical expert" on athletics.
Bob Belcher, longtime owner of Gino's Pizza locations at Chapmanville, Logan and Man, got his start with help from Kenny Grant, who today remains his good friend. At one time in our local history, Gino's was the only pizza place in Logan County. Some may recall when the restaurant was located at what was called the "Triangle," which is the area across from Appalachian Power near the traffic light.
Although Gino's owner Bob Belcher is a wonderful story that must be told, I have chosen to relay today's information because it is likely going to come as a surprise.
I believe it was about 1980 or so, when a person I had gotten to know some years before when I was covering sports with The Logan Banner, sat down beside me at a local watering hole one evening and ordered himself a drink.
It was not unusual to see this person when occasionally he would wander in and sit down for a chat. He would have his usual one or two drinks and go his merry way. But on this particular evening, he seemed concerned about something, so I asked him if anything was wrong. Although somewhat hesitant to talk about his apparent dilemma, this individual who I had become friends with years prior because of his athletic skills, explained that he was concerned with his economic future, and that he desired to go into some sort of business for himself.
At the time, I still knew exactly what the costs and profits were for pizzas, as well as the percentage of income made on draft beer sales, which, by the way, is quiet significant.
Since returning to Logan from my pizza making days at the Pub, I had desired to open a pizza/sandwich business in Logan somewhere because Gino's was the only pizza making joint in Logan County at that time. Unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately, I never had the finances or the backing to open such a business, although I knew it could be successful.
I made the decision - a bit reluctantly, I might add - to detail to him just how much profit margin there was in pizza making, which included at the time the costs of cheese, pepperoni, etc. I explained to my friend that with my job at the newspaper, I did not have the time or money to invest in the pizza business myself, but suggested that he would likely succeed, should he take it seriously.
I went on to explain the ingredients that went into Gino's pizza sauce. And, that only a handful of people were ever given the Gino's dough recipe, and I was never one of them. Now, don't get me wrong, I would never give out the Gino's secrets bestowed upon me, and I actually didn't when I named what was in Gino's pizza sauce, at least not the percentages of the ingredients of the mixture.
Fast forward, July 16, 1981: The young guy who used to bring me the really nice photos highlighting his motorcross racing career, which included many victories as he qualified in the Open Expert Class of Motor Cross racing and collected numerous first-place trophies for his racing expertise, was conducting his new restaurant's grand opening. Huge advertisements in The Logan Banner announced that the recipes used at the new restaurant were handed down from four generations of the Beninicasa Family from Calabria, Italy.
The restaurant, which was opened at Mt. Gay, had for many years served as Jimmy's Big C super market, but had closed due to a lack of business in an area that at one time when Gay Coal mine was open at Mt. Gay was comprised almost entirely by an Italian population, which included names such as Cottone, Pansera and Chirico, among several others.
By now, you should know that the restaurant that opened for the first time almost 38 years ago and featured calzones, subs and pizzas was named Frank's King of Pizza and was owned and operated by the late Frank Chirico, who made good use of what was the location of his father's store.
Some may remember that Frank did try the draft beer route, but I recall him telling me that there were many people who frequented his eatery following church services, especially on Sundays, and that he thought it better to quit dispensing the alcohol. Years later, he did open a small ABC club connected to the actual restaurant.
At any rate, Frank lived long enough to see his dream come through, as he expanded his businesses to several local locations, even opening one in Charleston at one time.
Over the years, Franks has evolved into Chirico's Ristorante with locations now in Logan and at 235 Main St., Pikeville, Ky., which I find interesting because it is operated in the former revitalized home of Randal McCoy, famous for his role as the father of the McCoy clan in the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud.
A website says that Frank Ray Chirico learned his father's Italian sausage-making skills, mastered the art of dough making and secured all of his Nonna's (grandmother) recipes for her sauces and meatballs. It notes that Frank passed along to his three sons his love of preparing the many old world recipes that are still utilized today at the two family restaurants.
Although I'm speculating, I suspect the label of Frank's Pizza may have been changed due to the enormous number of Italian restaurants in the United States which bore the same name. Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, California, Washington, D.C., and even Grand Rapids, Idaho, are just some of the places that feature a Frank's Pizza restaurant.
A little research out of respect to my pizza-making friend of yesteryear, tells me that there are only two restaurants in America that bare the name of Chirico's Ristorante. As a matter of fact, there are only 266 people in the United States who can claim the Chirico name, and 215 of those reside in New York State, followed by 76 in Pennsylvania.
Of course, the guy who founded the first of several pizza places in Logan had to give up his motorcycle riding skills that he learned practicing at a place in Mt. Gay called Billy Goat Junction, a now abandoned former little community that can be seen as practically an island located behind several businesses in Ellis Addition of Logan.
Like that former community, Frank is gone and so is the first location of Frank's Pizza.
Regardless, the dream lives on at two Chirico family restaurants that I can't help but still refer to as simply, FRANK'S.
Dwight Williamson serves as a magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.