Mechanics Bank presents the Courage at Work series, recognizing it takes incredible courage to start and run a business. As a local and independent bank, Mechanics understands that local businesses are the heartbeat of our community and would like to thank those businesses who call Richland County home.
The very first pizza shop in Mansfield, Leaning Tower of Pizza, has embraced their history and ceases to change a thing– which is just part of the reason they have been in business for over six decades.
Around Christmas of 1957, Joe Hess opened Leaning Tower, which quickly became one of the hotspots in town. Providing a unique, welcoming atmosphere, citizens flocked to the Tower to order food and play on old pinball machines. Gradually, Hess adorned the walls with numerous posters, many of which still remain today.
For a period of time, there was a psychedelic hearse painted by Hess’ first wife that was rumored to have delivered food for a while.
Many customers describe the building to be like a time capsule, eyes glued to the walls and ceiling, reminiscing on times when they came there years ago. The menu hasn’t changed, either. Hazel Howman created the famous submarine sandwich bread recipe which is still used to this day.
In 1992, the business was sold to Greg and Maryjane Gemzer, and Maryjane still runs it.
Managers Sean Kitzler and Kathy Parr have stuck alongside each other for most of their lives, sharing a long-lasting friendship and working together to help keep the Tower going.
“My brother worked here before I did. He started in, probably 1993, and got me a job here in the spring of ‘96. At that time Kathy wasn’t even living in this town, but we had been best friends since second grade. She moved back to town in 2001. I got her a job here and she’s been here ever since,” Kitzler said.
“It sticks with the family dynamic because Maryjane and Greg were my parents best friends. Kathy’s my best friend. It all just works and keeps the feeling of a family business,” Kitzler said.
In 2004, there was a gas explosion, which posed the question of if and when they would reopen. Workers united together and worked excessively to keep the historical establishment alive. The community showed an incredible amount of support, anxious to see their favorite spot come back.
“MaryJane always said that she planned to reopen the place for the community. It was never an option just to take the money and run and not reopen,” Kitzler said.
When the peak of the coronavirus hit, many restaurants were closing down or altering how they were run. Because Leaning Tower is carry-out only, they remained open through it all. But every day was uncharted territory.
“You just had to figure out what was best for today and then scramble again tomorrow to figure out what to do again,” Kitzler said.
“We were allowed to stay open during a time where some people had to leave and were scared. We had a short staff, and thank God for our staff. We worked around the clock for months to keep this going,” Parr said. “The workers really rallied together and helped each other out, showing that we had people here that really cared and wanted this place to succeed. It’s like a family.”
The local community, as well as people from all over, continue to show a great amount of love towards Leaning Tower. The history is shared through generations, passing down the tradition of stopping in and grabbing a pizza or sub while soaking in the friendly, retro atmosphere.
Leaning Tower of Pizza is located at 180 Lexington Ave. Stop in and get some food, and join their Facebook group for updates.
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