The year was 1977. A young woman from Boardman Ohio was pregnant with her second child. Many pregnant women have different food cravings during pregnancy (I remember my wife craving peanuts in the shell and Twix chocolate bars). This particular woman in 1977 had an incredible craving for a very specific pizza... Uptown Pizza. For much of her pregnancy, Uptown Pizza was a regular item on her weekly menu. How much Uptown Pizza you consumed while pregnant probably had a lot to do with why this baby weighed 9 pounds 9 ounces when she was born.
If you haven't noticed already, this is the story of my mother and me. I was born 7/7/77 at 7am. You could argue that I was blessed with a happy 7th birthday because I was lucky enough to have powered Uptown Pizza for 9 months. To this day I say I was born with Uptown Pizza sauce running through my veins.
When my daughter and I started posting videos on our "Youngstown Pizza Reviews" Facebook page, we knew that people in and around Youngstown took their pizza very seriously. We knew that everyone in town was a self-proclaimed "Pie Professional". Everyone has their favorite place. Everyone has their favorite topping. For me, Uptown Pizza will always be my go-to place, and Uptown Pizza will always be the gold standard for all local Youngstown pizza.
We started this new site, hoping that it will eventually be the go-to place for all things Youngstown Pizza. Part of the site will be a monthly highlight on a specific Youngstown pizzeria. We'll sit down with the owners, learn some of the history of the business, and give our readers a taste of the pizzas we love so much.
When deciding who would be the first highlight, there was no other option for us. Uptown Pizza had to be the first focus of attention.
I started looking up information about Uptown Pizza and found very little online. I couldn't find newspaper articles, no news coverage, no interviews, nothing. I started to get irritated and offended that no one highlighted them earlier. Around the same time, on a return trip from out of state, we stopped at a rest stop and I picked up a Youngstown travel guide. While flipping through this magazine, I happened to come across a page devoted to Youngstown Pizza. There is a brief review of the history of Youngstown Pizza with a handful of pizzerias listed. I looked through the listing and saw a very large broadcast... NO UPTOWN PIZZA! No disrespect to some of the pizza places listed, but there are a few listed that are not in the same league as Uptown Pizza. I know for a fact, both from people I know personally and from the hundreds and hundreds of comments on our pizza reviews, that Uptown Pizza has a loyal fan cult. Youngstown Pizza fans almost unanimously put Uptown on their Youngstown Pizza Mount Rushmore. It was very clear to me that Uptown Pizza had not been given the respect it deserved. My mission was clear. Uptown Pizza has long had a buzz for the thousands upon thousands of loyal Youngstown Pizza fans who have put this pie on a pedestal.
Through social media, I managed to get in touch with Starr Campbell, daughter of Uptown Pizza owner Mark Campbell. Starr also manages the Belmont Avenue location. Starr sought out his father, and the three of us sat down on a sunny afternoon at Shaker's Bar and Grille on Belmont Avenue to talk about the history of Uptown Pizza.
It didn't take me long to realize that Mark was an honest shooter. Mark is a man who is not afraid to work hard. Mark is totally old-fashioned (don't expect him to release a smartphone anytime soon). It also didn't take long to see that this work ethic rubbed off on Starr. Whether you're working 80 hours a week or opening early to fill orders from repeat customers, this family works hard to make us the best pizza in town. There's no denying that.
Our conversation started with the story of the original founder of Uptown Pizza, "Buffalo Joe" Marino. A question I had jotted down had already been answered within the first minute of our conversation… “Where did the name Little Joe (your personal little pizza) come from”?
“Buffalo Joe” started Uptown Pizza in the early 1950's in its original location at 2810 Market Street. In the mid-60's, Uptown Pizza moved to its South Avenue location near Irish Bob's. In the early 1970's "Buffalo Joe" sold the business to a group of 6 men (one of those men was Mark's father, Jim Campbell). The second location at 2940 Belmont Avenue opened around the same time. In 1984, Jim Campbell took sole ownership of Uptown Pizza. Around April 1989, due to a conflict with the owners of the building they were in on South Avenue, they moved from their South Avenue location to 4605 Market Street. In 1999, Jim Campbell's son Mark took over Uptown Pizza. Uptown Pizza in Boardman Ohio moved into its current home at 6041 Market Street about 5 years ago. The Belmont Avenue location remains at its original location at 2940 Belmont Avenue.
For me, the sauce at Uptown Pizza stands out the most. The crust and cheese are top notch, but the sauce hits the soul. I asked if this was the same sauce recipe over the years and was happy to hear that it was...with one exception. “The original sauce contained green chili,” says owner Mark Campbell. “After the 100th time picking green peppers when a customer asked for them, we decided to stop cooking them in the sauce.” Their famous bridal soup is also the original “Buffalo Joe” recipe.
I asked Starr how many people knew the recipe for the sauce, to which she replied, “Three! it would be the same if that recipe were forgotten
The kettle where the magic happens
Mark also had many stories to tell about the local celebrities who stopped by to get his pizza. Stories like that of legendary local news presenter Tom Holden stopping several times a week between the 6 am and 11 am news to "fuel" on his way back to the news station ("Tom was an amazing man," said Mark ). Mark also discussed Youngstown boxing royalty, former world middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik. “Kelly and her brother come all the time” says Mark “They are extremely repeat customers”
I walked over to Kelly to ask her what she loves so much about Uptown Pizza. “I don't know how to explain it…Youngstown is full of great pizza! Right between New York style and Chicago style, Uptown pizza is perfect! The cheese tastes great, the sauce is really good, and the crust/crust is delicious!
At Uptown Pizza, Mark built the customer's first approach to pizza. “We will customize our pizzas as the customer wishes. If you want pepperoni on top, we'll do it, if you want aluminum foil underneath to warm up, we'll do it. We want the customer to be always satisfied… this is our number 1 priority”
Top notch customer service, old school Youngstown Ohio work ethic, and great pizza, it tastes like no other. A nice thick layer of cheese, drizzled over a red sauce that tastes so good it will make your toes curl, all wrapped up in a dough/crust that will bring you to your knees.
Uptown Pizza is as young as it gets. Incredible quality, built on the back of a hardworking but often overlooked family.
I've said this before, and I'll say it again. Uptown Pizza is the gold standard for Youngstown Pizza... and it's about time it got the attention it deserves!
Uptown Pizza owner Mark Campbell and his daughter Starr