ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
The next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up a 5-pound bag of flour.
That’s how much the Mobster pizza weighs at Gambino’s Pizza in Marion.
And that’s a lot of pizza.
“It’s got everything on it,” said Jay Smith, who co-owns the two-decade-old restaurant with wife Judy.
“There’s a lot of toppings. Everything we’ve got goes on it-hamburger, pork, mushrooms, pepperoni, Italian sausage, green pepper, onion, black olives, Canadian bacon, salami and extra cheese.”
Gambino’s also features a fresh salad bar, a variety of pizzas, sandwiches, pasta, bread sticks and dessert pizza served seven days a week.
Although the Smiths have only owned the restaurant for eight years, Judy previously worked at the restaurant for 17 years.
And prior to purchasing Gambino’s, she worked four years as the manager.
“When we had the opportunity to buy it, we thought it was something we wanted to do together,” Jay said.
Until December 2001, Jay was a class-three equipment operator for the Kansas Department of Transportation, a job he had for 15 years.
“I didn’t want to work for the state all my life-I wanted to do something else,” he said.
Although Jay is responsible for the bookkeeping, the other restaurant duties are equally divided among all employees. Jay and Judy work full time, opting to work together during the busy lunch hour.
Judy can usually be found handling the remainder of the afternoons. Jay often takes the evening shift and closes the doors every night.
About four teenagers work as part-time employees, including members of the Smith family.
Oldest son Jared-19 and in college- began his duties at the restaurant when he was 12 years old. Twins Jacob and Joshua-sophomores at Marion High School-also work along side their parents.
“They understand it’s a family thing, and they do their fair share,” Jay said.
“They do a good job for us. That’s why we bought the restaurant-to be together as a family.”
Nestled in the middle of picturesque downtown Marion with buildings made of quarry rock, Gambino’s is a popular restaurant for young people and families.
“We have parents drop their 10- and 12-year-old kids off and know they’re safe in here, and we’ll take care of them,” Jay said.
Gambino’s is also a favorite hang out for high-school students, who enjoy crowding the restaurant on early release days, such as Good Friday.
“We’ll get 50 kids in here, and it’s great,” Jay said. “Some of them even jump in and help with the tables.”
And every Tuesday during the school year is Gambino’s Pizza Day, where Marion students have the option of getting either Gambino’s pizza or the school lunch.
The Smiths offer non-profit rates for school and community organizations. The high school FFA group benefits from selling Gambino’s Pizza at athletic events, such as track meets, and volleyball and basketball games.
“At a junior-high track meet last week, with just four teams, we did 15 large and about 48 small pizzas,” Jay said.
Community in Schools of Marion County orders pizzas, as does Tabor College in Hillsboro.
“We won’t turn anybody down,” Jay said. “We’ve had Goessel High School call with prom-party (orders).”
Patrons can sit in a dining room that seats about 50 customers, but a back meeting room will hold an additional 25 people.
“Usually, at least once a week, a meeting is scheduled for our back room,” Judy said.
In addition to popular pizza choices, diners can enjoy a salad bar made with fresh ingredients.
“We’ve been told we have the best salad bar in town,” Jay said. “Judy makes a kidney-bean salad sometimes to put out there, and it doesn’t last long.”
As part of the Gambino’s franchise, the restaurant gets in premade pizza sauce, but the dough is made from scratch by the Smiths.
“We mix the yeast, sugar and salt together and put our water, oil and flour in,” Jay said.
“That’s better than using a pre-mixed bag. We think it makes a better dough.”
The same dough is used to make the popular Gambino’s bread sticks-made with Italian dressing spread on top of fresh dough, and topped with cheddar and mozzarella cheese before they’re baked in the oven.
Because the restaurant is a franchise, Judy wasn’t able to pass along any Gambino’s recipes. But she did share three personal favorites.
Teriyaki Chicken Breasts
4-5 precooked frozen teriyaki boneless-chicken breasts from Sam’s Club (or equivalent grocery-store product)
1 can black beans, undrained
1 tomato, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 bottle Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing
1 jar Pace picante sauce
1 bag blue corn chips
Defrost four to five chicken breasts in the microwave, dice and stir-fry until crispy. Set aside. Tear lettuce and place on serving plate. Top with beans, tomatoes, onion and chicken.
Mix together ranch dressing and picante sauce to taste. Pour over chicken mixture. Crush chips and sprinkle over top.
“This is just something I came up with when I visited another Gambino’s,” Judy said.
“It’s like a taco salad. If you want it creamier, use more ranch dressing, and if you want it spicier, use more picante.”
Peanut Butter Cookies
1 C. shortening
1 C. sugar
1 C. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
1 C. peanut butter
3 C. sifted flour
2 tsp. baking soda
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Cream shortening, sugar and vanilla together. Add eggs and beat thoroughly. Add peanut butter and dry ingredients to combine. Form into balls.
Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Press with back of fork to make a crisscross design. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Makes eight-dozen cookies.
The cookie recipe belongs to Jay’s mom, Mona Smith.
“Everybody likes them,” Judy said. “Her grandkids love them.”
Magic Marshmallow Crescent Puffs
1/4 C. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 containers of crescent refrigerator rolls (8 ounces each)
16 large marshmallows
1/4 C. butter, melted
1/4 C. nuts, optional
1/2 C. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2-3 Tbs. milk
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine sugar and cinnamon, set aside. Separate crescent dough into 16 triangles. Dip a marshmallow into butter and roll in sugar-cinnamon mixture.
Wrap a dough triangle around each marshmallow, completely covering it, and squeeze edges of dough tightly to seal. Dip in melted butter and place in muffin cup.
Place filled muffin pan on foil-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
Immediately remove puffs from pan, drizzle with glaze and top with nuts.
“This was a recipe I got from a girlfriend when Jay and I were first married,” Judy said. “They’re really good and easy to make.”
With the same enthusiasm she had for sharing her recipes, Judy talked about why she and Jay enjoy their restaurant.
“Customers will get what they order, and they’ll get a good quality pizza,” she said. “We’ll just go that extra mile.
“It’s a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. It’s more like eating a family dinner here. “