HANNIBAL — Don Harvey has seen many changes during the past 50 years of ownership at Cassano's Pizza King — like the transition from hand-compiled inventory to calculators and today's high-tech point-of-sale systems — and the reward of community involvement and memories shared with customers and generations of employees led to a family atmosphere that remains as strong as ever.
Harvey embarked on his career in the food service industry in 1959 in Quincy, Ill., making milkshakes at Sandy's — which would later become the Hardee's franchise. He was 16 at the time, he and worked for owners Bernie Willer and Tom Daly at the restaurant at 30th and Broadway. Willer, Daly and Spike Ehrhardt were instrumental in Harvey becoming a co-owner at the Hannibal Pizza King at its former location on North Main Street. Harvey purchased Willers' shares in the company and joined fellow owners Daly and Spike Ehrhardt in 1969.
Before that, Harvey served in the Vietnam War in Chu Lai — working in a supply company attached to the Americal division beginning in 1968. President Nixon began bringing the soldiers in the company back after 11 months, and he returned to begin his journey at the downtown Pizza King.
The Harvey family moved to Hannibal from Quincy in 1970, and Don Harvey soon began working alongside fellow local leaders after joining the Hannibal Evening Kiwanis Club, committees with the Hannibal Chamber of Commerce and the Hannibal Industrial Council and serving as chair of the committee to bring 911 emergency service to Hannibal. The Harveys have also been active in Holy Family Catholic Church — then known as Blessed Sacrament Church — and they got the chance to work with many community leaders like Hannibal Chamber of Commerce's former executive director Gale Newman — who coined Hannibal's nickname of “America's Hometown.”
Harvey remembered Morris Resnick “took him under his wing.” when he joined the Hannibal Evening Kiwanis Club.
“He's the one who got me involved in the Industrial Council — he was very active in forming that,” Harvey said. “They were all just the giants of the community.”
Harvey enjoyed the chance to work with fellow council members like Orland Yates, John Bowman, Dave Hall, Leo Riney and Bob Welch. The Hannibal Industrial Council members worked together with Newman and other community leaders to strengthen Hannibal's industry, including moving Watlow from Maple Street to the Industrial Park, setting up a location for Manchester Tank and helping establish Hannibal Traffic Paint in Saverton. He said they shared the vision of building a good manufacturing base so families could raise their children in Hannibal and remain a part of the community.
“Ultimately, the seller's side of it is, I want to sell them all a pizza,” he said with a laugh.
During the decades of selling pizzas, subs and other familiar menu items, Harvey fondly remembered giving balloons to children after they finished their meals. Each of the Harveys' children started their first jobs as pizza makers at the restaurant — Lori, Steve, Sara, Jason and Matt. And he said countless members of the community made the restaurant a success at both locations.
“We have been very blessed with good employees over the years and a customer base that has stayed with us,” Harvey said. “People will tell me every once and a while, 'Yeah, I used to come to the store when it was down on North Main Street.' So they've been eating the pizza for 50 years, too. It's not just that I've been there — they've stayed with us and supported us.” The Harveys have been part of a family that includes thousands of former and current employees at the downtown restaurant — which they sold to the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in 1982 to use as a visitor's center — and the present location at U.S. 61 and James Road. Don and Carol Harvey's son, Matt, joined the business in the 1990s after returning from college. Matt became co-manager with their other son, Jason, until his untimely death in 2006. Matt is now co-owner and general manager of the recently remodeled restaurant. And Harvey said his wife offered encouragement and inspiration through it all, bringing his spirits up on difficult days.
Members of the community are invited to celebrate Harvey's 50-year anniversary in the pizza business with an open house from 2-4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11 – Veterans Day – at Cassano's.
Harvey expressed his appreciation for everyone who helped make the past 50 years successful.
More information about Cassano's is available on their website, www.cassanosmidwest.com .