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Pizza by Penso: An 80-year recipe for success

Kirk Sauernheimer, an employee of the New Philadelphia Penso’s Pizza shop, prepares to put a pizza in the oven.

Teri Stein

Sometimes change is good, and sometimes no change is just plain delicious. No change has been the recipe for success at the three area Penso’s Pizza shops in Dover, New Philadelphia and Strasburg.

“Grandpa made it all from scratch,” John Penso II said. “He built his first pizza oven out of fire brick.”

The Penso’s pizza recipe has not changed in 80 years, and everything is still made from scratch. Pizza dough is made fresh every day in large batches, which make approximately 65 pizzas and weighs about 80 pounds.

Penso’s Pizza started out in Dover in 1936 as the South Wooster Grill on the corner of Regent Street and Wooster Avenue, across the street from the current location of William’s Furniture, by Paul and Mary Penso, the grandparents of the current owners. Their restaurant also featured bands on the weekends. “Reeves Mill was really booming,” Penso, owner of the New Philadelphia location, said. “My grandpa loved to cook, so he just made pizzas and set them on the bar for when the guys came in after their shift at the mill.”

When the customers wanted to take pizzas home with them, a business was born.

A Penso’s pizza is a uniquely wonderful experience. The chewy, delicious pies with meaty pepperoni, a light tasty tomato sauce, covered with provolone and mozzarella cheese, are cooked to toasty light brown perfection in a very hot oven.

A number of other delectable toppings are available to customize the pizza to suit your taste.

Each Penso’s shop is owned by a different brother. Kent, the oldest, owns the Dover store; John II, the middle son, owns the New Philadelphia shop; and the youngest brother, Zach, along with his wife, Melissa, own the newest Penso’s shop in Strasburg, which opened in 2002. Roxanne Neice and Naomi Burky, the Pensos’ sisters, also worked in the family business when they were younger.

Each Penso’s shop has a different menu. The New Philadelphia shop has the largest menu featuring pizza, pasta, salads, subs and more and an area for dining in; the Dover shop specializes in pizza and salad along with the Strasburg location, which also has fried menu items.

Founder Paul Penso was known for making a large mess in the kitchen, a fact that impressed his son, John I, who is the father of the current Penso’s owners. “My Dad (John I) would be doing book work and then he would come down to the kitchen and say, ‘you cook like your grandpa; you dirty everything in the kitchen.’ I take that as a compliment,” said John Penso II, who has been making pizza his whole life but officially went on the business’ payroll at the age of 16 when he wanted to buy a car.

It’s not just the many customers who love Penso’s Pizza who realize how special it is. Sydney Young, an employee at the New Philadelphia shop since last October said, “I’m really privileged to have this job. It’s a one-of-a-kind job.”

To help celebrate the 80th anniversary with a pizza of your own, the New Philadelphia shop at 330-343-0506, the Dover shop at 330-343-0516 or the Strasburg shop at 330-878-0929 can take your order.

Published: February 12, 2016
New Article ID: 2016702129989