With Grandma’s Recipe, Retired Firefighter Opens Pizzeria

MINERAL RIDGE, Ohio – For more than 35 years, Rich Russo spent his Fridays in the kitchen of a Youngstown Fire Department station, baking pizzas for his fellow firefighters.

The tradition started at station No. 1, the firehouse downtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard where Russo began his career in 1976, and eventually wound up at station No. 2, on Indianola Road on the south side. Russo retired as a battalion chief in 2012.

“Since we all worked 24 hours a day, we’d all cook. And my day was the pizza day,” Russo related. “We’d make 20 or 30 pizzas a day and hand them out to the other stations or at City Hall.” Russo explained. “We all took turns and everyone knew that Friday was my day. They looked forward to it and would remind me on a Thursday that it was my day [to cook] next.”

Yesterday  he cut the ribbon at his own pizzeria, Russo’s Pizza, in Mineral Ridge. For Russo, opening the shop, 3356 Main St., is just an extension of his days in the fire department.

“It grew into something that everyone liked. We had fun making good, homemade pizza,” he said. “And that’s what this is. It’s light dough with light sauce that’s made just like grandma would make it.”

Also working at the store are Russo’s wife, Janet, and son, Anthony. Janet Russo said she can see the similarities between cooking with firefighters and cooking with family.

“The firefighters all enjoy cooking together and it helps with bonding,” she said. “There’s a camaraderie with it all. Maybe it’s an Italian thing. It brings the family together, too.”

In fact, Russo points to his grandmother Laura Russo, an Italian immigrant, as the one who got him interested in baking pizza. And it’s her dough recipe that Rich Russo uses today.

“It’s still the family recipe, but it’s been commercialized. It has to be made a little bit differently when you deal with that commercial base,” he said. “But it still tastes like Grandma’s recipe.”

On top of that family crust are plenty of toppings. Among the shop’s specialties are the Mahoning Valley classic, Brier Hill, a white pizza with garlic and oil, and a Buffalo chicken pizza. One of Russo’s personal favorites is the Ridge Wedge, he said, a triangle of dough topped with local meats and cheeses, which is folded into a wedge and baked.

To Russo’s delight, many of his old work buddies have stopped in since the shop’s soft opening in late September, along with the Mineral Ridge community.

“Most of [the firefighters] have called in and a lot have come in for lunch or dinner. They’ve all been glad to see us back making pizzas again,” Russo said with a large smile. “The people of Mineral Ridge welcomed us with open arms and keep coming back. It seems like everyone who’s been here loves it.”

Pictured: Janet and Rich Russo.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.