IF YOU GO:
Gino's celebrates 50 years in business with free outdoor concerts Friday and Saturday at Gino's Pub, 2501 5th Ave., Huntington. On April 1, Karla Dehart and RiverTown perform at 6 p.m. and Ricky Huckaby, son of former Marshall University basketball coach Rick Huckaby takes the stage at 8:15 p.m. Friday.
Piano player David Lucas, who played at the pub many years ago, returns to perform at 7 p.m. Saturday.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Gino's Pizza and Spaghetti House founder Kenny Grant isn't Italian. His family didn't make pizza. He didn't know anyone named Gino.
So his wife, Vivian, was a little surprised 50 years ago when he said he wanted to open a pizza shop in Huntington. He was 31 years old and had a steady job in a chemical plant.
"She pointed out that I couldn't even fry an egg," he said. She was right, but Grant wanted to learn to make the homemade pizza his Italian friends shared with him.
At the time, Huntington had just one pizza shop. During a visit to Cincinnati, he looked in the yellow pages for pizza restaurants where he might pick up some tips. The first several places he contacted used frozen pizza dough, but he thought the dough should be made fresh. Then he spotted an advertisement for Zino's in Norwood, Ohio, that said they made all the food served in their own kitchen.
Grant approached the owner and said he wanted to learn the pizza business and recipes. At first the owner turned him down, but he relented after Grant proposed that he work at the pizzeria for two weeks as an apprentice and that he would pay the owner $200 for the experience and recipes he learned.
"I took two weeks' vacation from the plant and worked at Zino's. He showed me everything," Grant said. "When I left, he gave me seven large pizza pans, four small and one extra large."
Grant found a little store space near East High School on 29th Street where he set up a pizza shop. He needed a name.
"I didn't know what to call it, so I just dropped the Z from Zino's and added a G," he said. "I thought it sounded more Italian, anyway."
He borrowed Zino's logo of the mustachioed man with a monkey as Gino's Pizza's logo as well. The logo still adorns storefronts and advertisements. Zino's owner didn't mind, said Grant, who kept in touch with him until his death.
Grant kept his full-time job at the chemical plant. He often worked the midnight shift and baked pizzas in nearly all the remaining hours of his days. For two years, he kept a grueling work schedule that allowed about four hours of sleep a day.
"On our slowest day, we did $19," he said. "Then, I got the idea that if the most popular East High students came, others would follow.
He offered some of them a free lunch if they came in and helped at lunchtime.
"They loved it. And guess what, the others started coming in for lunch, too," he said.
When one of those students graduated and went to work at a nearby nickel plant, he made her a similar offer. If she would take lunch orders at the plant, he would deliver and she'd eat free. Business boomed.
In 1963, he quit his job with Allied Chemical, purchased larger restaurant space, and went into business full time. In 1965, he opened Gino's Pub on Fifth Avenue, which is now the oldest of the 70 Gino's throughout West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.