• Cassano's Pizza King aims to reclaim Dayton market

DAYTON, Ohio -- Cassano's Pizza King is back, says Victor "Vic" Cassano Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of the Dayton-based pizza company.

Not that he or the company ever left town, but both are working to reverse a 15-year slump that began with the sale of Cassano's in 1986.

According to the Dayton Business Journal, Cassano has spent the past two years refurbishing stores, adding high-tech kitchen equipment and new menu items, and boosting ad spending by 50 percent.

In the last 18 months, six new locations have been opened (bringing the chain's total to 33), boosting revenue by more than 20 percent. Cassano wants to add 13 more over the next three years.

"This is our home. This is where we live," Cassano said. "All those other (pizza companies) are invited guests in our town, (and) we're going to own this market again, just like we did."

Vic Cassano Sr., who died earlier this year, founded the pizza company in 1953. The company grew to more than 100 locations before he passed it along to Cassano Jr., who sold the business in 1986 to Greyhound Food Management Co.

Greyhound planned to open 100 to 150 stores a year en route to becoming the next Domino's Pizza, Cassano said. But when that didn't happen, Greyhound sold the company to Cassano Jr. and Greyhound executive Randy Leasher in 1989.

However, in 2000 Leasher pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $700,000 from the 48-store company, and was fired.

That same year, Cassano enlisted the help of his sons, Chip and Chris. The trio began rolling out new items, including the Cassini sandwich served on flatbread, pizza box nachos and Mexican pizza.

Cassano would not disclose annual revenues.

He also hired local ad agency Penny/Ohlmann/Neiman in 2001, and the firm has led the pizza company to lean on its tradition as a selling point. President Walter Ohlmann said bringing back 40- or 50-year-old catchphrases and logos is a good way to reconnect with the older customers. But he said companies should be careful when using nostalgia.

"It depends if the old is remembered as being good or as not being very good," he said, adding that Cassano's has a fine reputation.

The company is also focusing on boosting efficiency. Chip Cassano has expanded the company's dough commissary, and a call center serving four stores is in operation. In two years, Cassano's should have a one-number call system for Dayton.

All the stores' ovens have been replaced, and every store will either be rebuilt or renovated.

"It's amazing what you can do when all your money is being put into the bank, instead of somewhere else," Cassano said, 57, and who has begun the process of turning the business over to his sons.

"Everything that's happened has given me the opportunity to capture the company my father gave birth to back in 1953," said Cassano, adding that the pass-along process is a 10-year activity. "Sometimes we lose track of who we are, where we come from and how things began."

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