LISBON -- Who would have thought that 40 years of history were baked into a 12-inch pizza?
In all outward appearances, it is just a pizza, enjoyable to the last bite.
The soft, homemade crust is cooked to a light crisp, and each bite drips with melted cheese and sweet, tomato-rich sauce, thickened with ground sausage.
But the taste -- the recipe behind the flavorful blend of homemade crust and toppings -- has a history that spans four decades.
Beginning: Mary's Pizza Shop, on the corner of North Beaver and High streets, opened for business in 1961, but its founder, Mary Spadaro, had been quite familiar with the pizza-making process before then.
Spadaro's grandson, Steve Garofalo, said his grandmother always made bread for her family on Wednesdays. Her neighbors, aware she would make pizza with the leftover dough, would stop by house because she would give them pizzas made with her own original recipe.
"She made pizza just the way my grandfather liked it," Garofalo said of his grandmother.
And, as Garofalo humbly put it, "People liked it."
When one of Spadaro's relatives bought a bar containing used pizza equipment, he wanted Spadaro to buy the equipment. With her family's support -- and help -- she started the business in her house.
Took over: In January 1985, two of Spadaro's grandchildren who had worked in the shop for years, Garofalo and his brother Michael, took over the business.
Two months later, Spadaro's husband, Carman, died. She now lives in Pleasant View Nursing Home in Lisbon, where she moved in 1996.
The owners moved the business next door to a garage on the property in January 2000.
"Next door we were really busy," Garofalo said of the old location, adding that customers often had to wait several hours for pizzas because the waiting list was so long. After buying more equipment and moving to a bigger location, the waiting time was cut considerably, he said.
The new location has a small dine-in area with just a few tables, and a large colorful pizza sign adorns the front window. Among country-style paintings on the walls is a painting of Spadaro and her husband.
Along with the new look, the business has expanded its hours and menu, offering sandwiches, pepperoni rolls, salads, wedding soup, chicken wings, jalapeno poppers and cheese sticks. He believes that including luncheon pizzas, they sell close to 800 pies a week, and the majority of their business is takeout.
What stayed the same: In spite of the changes in hours, menu and location, the original pizza recipe that pleased Spadaro's husband more than 40 years ago has remained the same. Mary's Pizza Shop celebrated its 40th anniversary in March.
How does a family-owned pizza shop stay in business amid a multitude of popular pizza chains?
Garofalo said their pizza is different.
"It's all homemade. The sauce is strictly made from tomatoes and tomato paste," he said.
He noted that they make fresh, homemade dough for the crust and fry 300 pounds of sausage per week for their sauce. Eight ounces of cheese and 13 to 15 ounces of sausage are heaped upon a 12-inch pie.
"We put a lot of toppings on," he said simply.
In addition to its homemade taste, the shop has a loyal customer base and draws patrons from a large area.
"It's one of the first pizza shops in the area," Garofalo said. "We still get a lot of customers that came in 1961."
Jason Croxall of East Liverpool and Sandra Beach of Steubenville, who both work in Lisbon, have walked to Mary's during lunch break.
"As a kid, it was a big treat when someone went through Lisbon and brought home a pizza," Croxall said between bites of a focaccia sandwich.
Toppings: Beach recalled a trip to the pizza shop almost a year ago when she first tried one of the pizzas loaded with toppings.
"The first time we had pizza here we thought we'd eat it on the way," she said. "When we opened the box, we laughed. There was no way we could eat it on the way."
John Wolf of Lisbon said he orders from Mary's at least once a month.
"Honestly, I think it's their pizza dough," he added.
Salem resident Georgiana Bailey admires the establishment not only for its food, but also for its price and friendly atmosphere.
"I love the pizza, and I love the people who work there," she said. "I've had pizza in seven states, and it is by far the best pizza. You just don't find pizza like that."
Donna Klaes of Lisbon said that she has enjoyed the food for the last 20 years.
"It's very original," she said. "There's no place like Mary's."

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