In 1962, the year that Mary Lou Toly opened Red Banjo Pizza Parlor on Main Street, “He’s a Rebel” by The Crystals was a hit, along with Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash,” The Orlons’ “Wah Watusi,” and Bobby Vinton’s “Roses Are Red (My Love).”
JFK was in the White House and John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. Personal computers were still at least a decade away and Park City Mountain Resort — then a ski hill called Treasure Mountain — would open a year later.
Now in its 60th year, no one can quite remember exactly why the restaurant was named Red Banjo Pizza, but the name stuck.
Red Banjo Pizza is Park City’s oldest business and a family affair from top to bottom. Tana Toly, who currently runs the restaurant with her father, Scott, and other members of the family, says that her family’s run in Park City dates back to 1915, when her great-great grandfather moved from Ogden to work in the mines. Fast forward several decades to 1962 and his granddaughter, Mary Lou, took over what was a beer bar called the Park Tavern. She ran it as a bar until the late ‘60s when she decided to add food to the mix.
“Pizza was becoming a trending food in America then,” says Tana. So her grandmother started serving pizza, launching Park City’s first pizza joint and kicking off a hand-tossed pizza tradition that continues today. (An interesting historical note: Red Banjo Pizza has two entrances, side by side. That’s because, in the old days, the tavern had an entrance for men which led directly to the bar, and a separate entrance for women.)
They would, in later years, add sandwiches, pasta dishes, salads, a kids menu, and even gluten-free pizza.
One of the reasons Mary Lou choose to transition from a bar to a restaurant in the late ‘60s is that she wanted a business that everyone in her family could be involved in. Well, she got her wish: Tana’s niece and nephew — aged six and eight — are sixth generation Parkites and have already begun negotiations for when they’ll take over the family business.
“My nephew,” says Tana, “likes to come in and help me clear the tables when he’s not in school and he’s already asking how much he can make per hour. And my 6-year-old niece asks, ‘How many Skittles can I get to do this?’”
Red Banjo Pizza is a rarity these days; a family-run business in which multiple generations pitch in. On the day that I interviewed Tana, her dad was cooking pizzas, her brother was washing dishes, and she was serving customers.
When asked to describe her family in one word, Tana replies: “Grit. My grandmother couldn’t have imagined having a business that would last for six decades. She just wanted to make something for her family that she could be proud of.”