Movers and Shakers: Zamarelli’s Pizza Palace
Columbus’ Best Pizza offers a fresh take on old-world charm.
Zamarelli’s Pizza Palace is a family-owned-and-operated restaurant and catering business located in Grove City, Ohio.
In 1957, Zamarelli’s namesake, Andy Zamarelli, owned Mama Lucia’s in Hilliard, Ohio. In 1963, Mr. Zamarelli went on to co-own a second location in his Grove City neighborhood. Mr. Zamarelli eventually bought out his Grove City partner and changed Pizza Palace to Zamarelli’s Pizza Palace; after closing Mama Lucia’s, Zamarelli’s Pizza Palace would become his sole focus.
Mr. Zamarelli based the restaurant’s philosophy around the recipes his mother brought over from Italy and his values of “keeping the old traditions alive and passing them on from generation to generation.” Pass them on he did. In 1991, his daughter, Tina, and her husband, Jack Middendorf, took over Zamarelli’s — and they’ve done their part to continue the traditions.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for content and length.
Tell us about when you first started working here, before taking over as owners. What did you do?
Tina: Everything. My father always taught me how to do everything, since the day we walked in the door.
Jack: When I first started in the early ’70s I was a delivery boy, but like all 16-year-olds I had a heavy foot. I lost my license and (with that) I became an indoor guy. My (now) father-in-law, Andy, had me working with him, so that’s how I learned.
We hear you met here. How long have you been married?
Tina: Thirty-two years … we have a daughter, Johanna. Her picture’s there behind you.
What are some of your favorite memories here?
Tina: The people who come back and tell stories about my dad.
You know your customers pretty well.
Jack: Oh yes. That’s one of her things: “How can you remember the customers and what their orders are and everything else, but if I ask you to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home you forget it?”
What is one of your favorite things about being a part of the Grove City community?
Tina: It’s actually being able to give back to the community because we’re involved in a lot of civic organizations with the city, local schools and churches, and charitable organizations. They do more for us than we can do for them. That’s the way we look at it. So we try to do as much as we can and be involved as much as we can.
Where does your motto — “Old World Cooking, With New World Service” — come from?
Tina: The recipes that came from Italy before 1900. That’s the old-world cooking. No recipe has changed since we opened the door in 1963.
Jack: It’s consistency. That is what we do. I want the pizza the same today, Friday and next Tuesday. You hear all those horror stories where mom and pop start the store and then the sons and daughters and in-laws come in and think, “We know what we’re doing.” Then, three years later, they’re out of business. The only thing we’ve changed in this business is the name at the bottom of the check. That is the only thing we’ve changed.
People will call up and ask, “Do you use old-world pepperoni?” And I’ll say, “I’m not sure what you want to call ‘old-world pepperoni,’ but it’s the same stuff we’ve been using for 52 years — does that make it ‘old world?’”
Can you describe the style of pizza you offer?
Jack: Thin, crispy crust. We put down our sauce, then a layer of cheese, then all the toppings, then another layer of cheese. We have a lot of people that’ll call up and say, “I want all the toppings on top with the cheese on the bottom.” But, you know, it’s six one, half a dozen the other.
How has your menu changed over the years?
Jack: We added bacon here not too long ago; that seems to be a big seller. We added turkey to be “healthy.” We added chicken wings a few years ago. That was one of those things that (RDP Founder) Rich (DiPaolo) was after me on for years. He’d say, “You need to sell chicken wings! Everybody gets pizza and chicken wings. Pizza and chicken wings!” That seems to be a good seller. We could do something like eggplant Parmesan … that might be a new addition to our menu.
We’ve also been offering gluten-free crust for a year or two now, and the people who get it, love it. People have said they’ve tried gluten-free (crust) other places and they don’t care for it. But, I think it all depends on the toppings you put on (the pizza), and that’s one of the reasons we’ve stayed with RDP since day one — because of the quality we can get.
How would you describe your relationship with RDP?
Tina: Near and dear — I would never go anywhere else. Ever. The DiPaolos treat you like a family. Now, we know we aren’t anywhere close to being one of their biggest customers, but that doesn’t make any difference to them; they treat everybody as though they were the best customers they ever had.
And, you can’t get quality ingredients anywhere else. It’s just like the oil that we were using at one point. RDP wasn’t carrying it anymore because it was so expensive and they didn’t have enough customers buying it to make it feasible for them to continue ordering it from that company. RDP looked all over the place. They searched everywhere. They kept giving us samples of this, samples of that … in order to get us the same quality we had before. No one else would do that!
We know we would never have gotten two awards from the city of Columbus for being the best pizza in all of Columbus if it hadn’t been for RDP and the quality of (ingredients) we’re able to use. We have always given all of our credit to (RDP).
Jack: Other places will talk to us and we’ll tell them we’re not interested. They’ll say, “What if I can save you money?” I’ll say, “No. You can’t give me the same product.” Doesn’t matter who the chef is, if you don’t have quality food you can’t put out a quality product. Besides that, I’ll tell them it’s an Italian thing, and then they usually drop it.
What sets you apart from other pizza places?
Tina: We have a full menu. At other pizza shops you can only get a salad, a sub and a pizza, and that’s it … maybe breadsticks or wings or something like that. We do all that and we do lasagna, ravioli, rigatoni, mostaccioli, and spaghetti. But, we’re not trying to compete with anybody. We’re just trying to stay on our own little corner and do our own little thing. There’s enough business out there for everybody.
Jack: We’ve had those questions before: “What’s your competitor doing?”I don’t care what they’re doing. All I’m doing is the best I can do with the best I have to do it with. If you like it, fine. If you don’t like it, that’s fine too. I’m not out after everybody’s money; I’m just trying to make our customers happy.
You obviously have great success and a good following. Have you thought about growing to other locations?
Tina: No, because our feeling has always been, and so has my father’s, that you lose your consistency because you’re not there watching. We’d rather just do it at one place and do it right — do it the best we can. Plus, we’ve got our hands full with what we’ve got. Now, if there were one thing we wanted to do, it would be to bottle our own salad dressing. That’s really a goal we have. We sell so many salads and it’s because of our dressing. People buy the dressing, or want the dressing on the side; they buy pints of it or whatever. If we could find someway to do that, that would be our next goal. That’s why RDP went to the ends of the earth to find us that oil, because this is such a signature thing and we had to have it.
CityScene Magazine voted you Best of ’Bus for best pizza. How does that feel?
Tina: It’s exciting because it’s really hard to compete against big chains with their big money and advertising.
What motivates you?
Tina: I would say the customers. It’s the satisfaction that we see from our customers.
Jack: The pride … the customers that come in. When Tina and I took over in ’91, the local paper ran an article. So, this guy calls up and goes, “You’re not going to do very well because you’re serving the same food that the old man served.” I told him, “Thank you, sir. That’s the best compliment you could have ever given me.”
Tina, what do you think your dad would say?
Tina: I think my father would be very proud.
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Here at RDP, relationships like the one we have with Zamarelli’s Pizza Palace are what make us successful. Contact us to learn how you can be our next featured customer.