In 1968, Oshel Craigo asked Grant about franchising Gino's. Craigo opened the first Gino's franchise in Nitro. Later, Craigo paired Gino's with Tudor's Biscuit. His franchises often share space with Tudor's. The 11 Gino's that Grant owns, mostly in the Huntington area, are stand-alone, although he also owns five Tudor's in Huntington.
Gino's cooks still follow Zino's recipes for pizza sauce, dough and beefsteak sandwiches. The menu expanded through the years and now includes salads, wings, hoagies, calzones, pasta and their signature Pubwich sandwich of roast beef or ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion topped with special dressing.
Pizza is Gino's best-selling item. The beef steak sandwiches served on a Pepperidge Farm hoagie bun come in second.
"We have the most loyal customers. They come back year after year," he said. "Just the other day, a woman came up to me and said she remembered coming here on Saturday nights when she was 5 years old. It was the day her dad got his paycheck."
Grant enjoys good health at 81 years old, and eats a large Gino's pizza, half sausage, half pepperoni with banana peppers, two to three times a week for dinner. He usually eats the whole pie. He weighed 181 pounds when he opened his first Gino's 50 years ago and weighs 179 pounds now.
When he's in one of his restaurants, customers and friends stop by his table to clap him on the shoulder and shoot the breeze. The customers joke with the wait staff and manager B.J. Nance, who's worked at Gino's for 28 years. She's one of many longtime employees, an unusual state of affairs in the restaurant industry.
Grant employs about 250 people, and 28 have been with him for more than 10 years.
He's a hands-on owner, and still works 10-hour days when he isn't in Florida, or Italy, his favorite place to visit. While in Italy, he became very fond of gelato, Italy's version of ice cream and wanted to offer it at Gino's. But first, he had to learn how to make gelato. At 73 years old, he again presented a learn-as-he-worked proposal to a gelato shop in Torino, Italy, where the owner taught him to make the sweet treat.
The freezer cases in the 10th Avenue store in Huntington display colorful tubs of gelato made on site. Grant thinks he offers the only authentic gelato in West Virginia at that Gino's and at the Gino's Pizzeria and Pub in Charleston's Yeager Airport
He's slowed down a little since a 2001 visit to Spain in which he planned to run with the bulls. He trained to run the necessary mile, but didn't get the chance. The car in which he was riding on his way to the run in Spain wrecked. He was in the hospital 12 days. He didn't try again.
"My daughter said she thought my guardian angel might be getting tired," he said.
Gino and Vivian had three daughters. Two of them work in the family business offices. Grant's wife and one daughter have died. He's an avid boxing, baseball, golf and Marshall University sports fan, with photographs in the entrance to prove it. Muhammad Ali smiles in several, sitting with some of Grant's six grandchildren.
Grant's throwing a party Friday and Saturday at Gino's Pub, 2501 5th Ave. in Huntington, to celebrate Gino's Pizza and Spaghetti House's 50 years in business. Pizza prices will be reduced, but not down to the 1961 prices when a pizza was $1.75.
Karla Dehart and RiverTown will perform at 6 p.m., and Ricky Huckaby, son of former Marshall University basketball coach Rick Huckaby, will perform 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.
The performances are free and will be held outdoors under a tent.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.