Victor J. Cassano Sr., founder of Cassano's Pizza King, died in a Miami Valley, Ohio, hospital Jan. 1. He was 79.
Cassano and his mother-in-law, Caroline Donisi, opened Cassano's in 1953, and grew the chain to 125 stores. Cassano sold the company to Greyhound Food Management Inc. in 1986, but just three years later, Vic Cassano Jr. and Randy Leasher, a former Greyhound Food Management executive, repurchased the struggling company. There now are 29 full-service Cassano's in Ohio, and dozens of Cassano's Pizza Express compact outlets throughout the state.
A son of Italian immigrants, Cassano faced a life of challenges from very early on. When he was only 2, his father died, and his mother, who neither spoke nor read English, was forced to place her three boys in a Cincinnati orphanage. Years later, the mother reunited the family.
Cassano went on to become a well-known humanitarian in throughout Ohio, knowing well the struggles of others and eager to give them a hand.
According to a Dayton Daily News story printed in 1981, Cassano attributed his kindness to knowing he'd be held accountable after death. "When you get to those pearly gates, you're going to be judged by what you do for your fellow man," he said.
He also attributed his success to growing up in the U.S., and to going the extra step for the customer.
"The fun of the free enterprise system is that you can go as far as you want if you are willing to offer a little more than the average person," he told the Daily News.
He is survived by two brothers, his wife, Anne, two sons, two daughters, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.