When I first interviewed local pizza pioneer Dino Chonis on the radio five years ago, we didn’t get to the pizza part of the conversation until half-way through the segment.
While I was expecting to jump right into his secrets for an awesome sauce and his perspectives on topping trends at Tino’s Pizza, 6610 E. Tanque Verde Road, he preferred talking about things that seemingly mattered more in the context of his business. Before he talked about his pizzas, wings and sandwiches, he shared his thoughts about gratitude, community and family.
It was clear at that very moment that these were primary elements of the business that he opened in 1984. It’s almost like he was suggesting that a foundation of gratitude, a love of community and a dedication to family will put you in the right position to make a great pizza. It worked. The community has been responding for nearly 36 years, the same community that joins me in mourning his passing from cancer and kidney failure last week.
Chonis’ recipe for business success was simple: Show up every day, be consistent, do the best that you can, and work hard, he told me. Nothing about crust, cheese or anchovies here. These were life lessons that went far beyond the manufacturing of a memorable pie.
After that first interview, I would regularly run into him at locally owned restaurants. He’d always have a smile, accompanied by a bear hug, and something positive to say. And when he introduced me to his wife and children, I spotted that same shine right away.
His wife Sheila, with her work in the business community and volunteer efforts with local charitable organizations, including 100+ Women Who Care, is altruism personified. Her Facebook intro statement is one of my favorites. It reads: “I scatter joy everywhere possible.”
His son Dimitri, though he stands at an imposing 6 feet and 5 inches, is definitely Dino’s Mini-Me, and an obvious graduate of his old man’s show up every day, be consistent, do the best that you can, and work-hard teachings. This earned him a pizza bearing his name on the Tino’s menu.
His daughter Morgan, who also has a pizza deservedly named for her, undoubtedly due to the gentle kindness that she imbues, told me last week that their customers and community made all the difference in her father’s world. “Dad was obsessed with serving people,” she said.
Shortly after Dino’s passing on April 13, friends, families, customers and others touched by his goodness showed up at the restaurant to pay their respects. Balloons, flowers, cards and photos started to populate the parking lot, with mourners writing personal messages on the side of the building. On what is now a memorial wall, messages like “Half man, half amazing” and “A father to all children not just your own” are appearing. I think they’ll be needing a bigger wall soon.
The restaurant is back in business following a few days off, and I’ve already decided what my next pizza will be.
In that radio interview five years ago, Dino told me what a pizza would look like if it had my name on it, which sounded like a signal of his intentions to make me an honorary Chonis.
“Pepperoni, smoked ham, great sausage, grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and a lot of garlic,” he said with conviction. If that was his vision, then let it be done.
Rest easy, Dino, from a family and community that’s forever grateful for you.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.