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Column: Big-a pizza pie was long time coming to Worthington

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Jan. 14, 2006.

WORTHINGTON — Sometimes I scare myself. I think about something and I say to myself (the way Emeril Lagasse talks to himself on The Food Network):

“Self — you’ve got to be imagining. You can’t possibly remember. You must be 300 years old.”

I am certain I don’t remember the time before there was bread, but I nearly remember the time before people bought sliced bread. There was sliced bread in my home but when we went to Gramma’s house, Gramma always produced a loaf of newly-baked bread and sliced it thick. In a time before this, Gramma sometimes baked bread every morning. She knew how. I wish you could have been there. I know you would have liked it.

As you got older and wiser, you learned there were days when you should propose/encourage a visit to Gramma’s house. Sometimes you might resort to coaxing. The thing you learned: Gramma baked coffee cakes on this day, or on this day. Sometimes bismarks with homemade grape jelly, as well. I’m sure there was something in the world better than Gramma’s coffee cakes and bismarks, but I don’t know what it was.

The thing that got me started on this — I was remembering a time before there was pizza. I remember the time when pizza came to Worthington. I had to look up some notes — it was November 1958, just before Thanksgiving.

I had eaten pizza by that time. Where? Maybe Minneapolis. There was no pizza in stores at Worthington, and many people here did not know what pizza was/meant.

Well, let me tell you — at that time, no one even said “pizza.” Everyone said pizza pie. “We’ll have a pizza pie.” I know this does not sound cool but remember, too, this was the time of Dean Martin. Dean Martin was King of Cool, and he was from an Italian heritage as well. If you listened to WCCO in those days, you heard Dean Martin sing, “That’s Amore.”

“When the moon hits your eye

“Like a big-a pizza pie

“That’s amore…”

Even the King of Cool said pizza pie. That’s how it was.

It was fun knowing the Rev. Alfred Asarisi. People called him Al, of course. Al came to town as assistant pastor at Worthington’s Full Gospel Tabernacle. He also was of Italian heritage. Al Asarisi was a World War II Marine Corps cook. In the Korean War, he was cook aboard an aircraft carrier.

Al settled his family in the house at 715 11th St. He decided to introduce Worthington to pizza pie. In fact, he spent $1,200 for ovens and equipment, plus a small sign. He inquired at City Hall, and he was told he needed signatures of 49 neighbors. His house was in a block zoned residential. Al got the signatures, and he got the signatures of the mayor and all the City Council members as well.

He was set to sail.

Worthington people said, “We’re getting a pizza house.” (Who ever heard of a pizza hut?)

Al said he would bake pizza pies on order, from 4 p.m. until midnight. People could pick them up. (Who ever heard of delivering pizza?)

Well — the roof fell in. One neighbor decided, “If we let this guy in, we’ll have businesses all over the block. This place will stink, besides.” The man canvassed the neighborhood with a second petition. When Rev. Al went to a City Council meeting for his go-ahead, he was told 29 people withdrew their names. The deal was off.

Jack Hagge was an alderman at that time, and Jack was a wise counselor. He proposed, “Let the Reverend make pizza pies for six months. If there is a problem, he will have to stop. If there is no problem — well, then there is no problem.”

This made good sense, but by that time, neighbors were adamant. No pizza stink in our backyards.

Arrangements were made for Al to have a pizza house in a basement on 10th Street, under Lien Electric. It turned out Worthington wasn’t ready for pizza. Demand was never brisk. Al Asarisi felt betrayed — he believed he was doing a worthy thing for his community.

Al’s pizza house closed, but Worthington had learned what pizza is — 1958.

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