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Mason City loses pizza pioneer (by Peter Children)



This news story was published on May 4, 2013.
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I am saddened to report that Vic Santeramo has died. He passed away yesterday at the Heritage Nursing Home here in Mason City. He was 84.

I first met Vic in 1961 when he came to Mason City to scout out the town for the possibility of opening a pizza house here. The rest is pretty much history. He opened on South Federal with a small restaurant directly across the street from what was then the Strand Theater and Harry Sweet Shop and immediately one store front North of the Silver Saddle Bar. That Pizza House set unarguably the standard for pizza in North Iowa. The world passed through it’s doors. I was in there the night Count Bassie came in; his band had played that night at the Surf Ballroom. And the next morning the band bus was parked on South Jackson because one of the greatest bands in the history of America were not allowed to rent rooms in Mason City or Clear Lake.

Vic and I became fast friends, it was the same time Jim Chimbidis and I opened the Red Llama on Delaware….many of you will remember that bar. It was the first bar in all North Iowa with carpet on the floor and no beer signs inside or out. And the then Police Chief Stanley McClintock refused to sign our application for a beer license saying; “I’m not signing any permit for a Greek wearing a beard.” We got the license anyway.

Vic had magic in his hands, he was one of the greatest cooks I ever met. His sugo (sauce) was better than any I ever tasted in Italy. His family came from Bari and he learned his trade at his mother’s elbow. He made “home mades” that would melt in your mouth…and he shared those abilities with many of us…they were priceless gifts that could never be bought in any store.

After Vic sold his resturant he moved to Colorado to be closer to his brothers. Recently he moved back to Mason City, a town that he grew to love. He suffered from a pulmonary illness which took his life. May his memory be eternal…..

Peter Children

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35 Responses to Mason City loses pizza pioneer (by Peter Children)

  1. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    February 19, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    I remember Vic s Pizza in Wis. Rapids Wi. It was very delious. The place was run by the Bell family. He was a very nice guy. His kids went to school here too. Then they moved away. I think it was open for about 5 years here in Wis. Rapids. Some days I wish I could still order one of there pizzas !!!

  2. Joe Diaz Reply Report comment

    August 3, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    His pizza was the standard for me. I still tell people the best pizza I ever had came from Vic’s in Mason City.

  3. Eventually! Reply Report comment

    May 29, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    Jerry, I remembered you from way back but didn’t get your spelling right. Sorry about that. I bet you will be a reader here now. Good to hear from you.

  4. Senior Native Reply Report comment

    May 6, 2013 at 9:00 am

    Vic’s pizza was the first pizza I ever had. It was delicious! They don’t make pizza like that anymore. Everyone liked Vic — especially us girls because he was so handsome too! Sorry to hear of his passing.

  5. seriously? Reply Report comment

    May 4, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    If you don’t remember having Vic’s pizza delivered on Sunday night just in time for Land of the Giants and then Ed Sullivan you didn’t live…lol

  6. dirty ernie Reply Report comment

    May 4, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    sounds like a good time-wish i could have ate there.

  7. Just My Opinion Reply Report comment

    May 4, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    I have a question, Peter. I clearly remember Vic’s Pizza, and it really was the greatest, but didn’t a man named Dick Bell purchase the business from Vic at some point? Or was he the manager? He always made us feel so welcome. I heard he died a couple of years ago.

    • Peter Children Reply Report comment

      May 5, 2013 at 7:15 am

      I am not familiar with Dick Bell. I am not saying you are wrong but he doesn’t come to mind. I knew most of the local staff; could it be the Mr. Bell came after Vic sold the business?

      • LVS Reply Report comment

        May 5, 2013 at 8:41 am

        @Peter Children-I seem to remember Dick Bell and I thought he was the manager, but he could have bought the place and just didn’t know it. I had an old friend who worked there for awhile.

      • Gerald Kaler Reply Report comment

        May 29, 2013 at 3:24 pm

        Hi Peter
        This is Gerald Kaler, it appears you were able to remember a great deal of facts about Vic’s Pizza, my very dear friend who I am very sorry he has past on, but can’t seem to remember how to spell my name. I read all the articles that were printed and really need to set the record straight. I have owned many businesses in my 78 years with a great deal of Success. I did not purchase Vic’s pizza for $75,000 and I did ran it very successfully. I did not cut corners or use meat substitutes. The reason for quiting the business was the arrival of Pizza Hut and another Pizza business at the corner of 4th and Federal Avenue, which cut into the profits. Vic and I started with Lee’s Famous Recipe as SKL enterprise with the S standing for Santeramo. I still own Lee’s Famous Recipe in Wausau, WI and have for the past 46 years. I owned 3 other Famous Recipes in Appleton,WI;in Kentucky and in Wisconsin Rapids, WI. At 78 I am down to 1 store.
        The Vic’s Pizza recipe is still going in Kentucky as far as I am aware. The recipe was never altered.

        I felt compelled to respond to your article as there were so many errors. As you can tell I may not be the greatest at typing but I believe I have made my point.

        I was not aware that Vic was in a nursing home in mason city, or I would have definately visited with him. I extend my sincere condolences to Vic’s family.

        I am not of the computer generation but I am learning a little about it, but would rather carry on a personal conversation rather than typing it.
        The art of communicating and conversing in person is being lost.
        Gerald Kaler

        • Eventually! Reply Report comment

          May 29, 2013 at 5:41 pm

          Jerry, I remembered you from way back but didn’t get your spelling right. Sorry about that. I bet you will be a reader here now. Good to hear from you.

  8. Michael Servantez Reply Report comment

    May 4, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    Wow, Lots of fond memories eating there. I loved Vic’s Pizza. Ate there all the time. Best pizza in town, My friends and I would go there and eat, then go downstairs to the Shelter Lounge. What a combination, it was so cool. Some of the best times of my life. I am now 62 years old, and sometimes its like yesterday when I think back to Vic’s Pizza. Thanks Vic for all the memories in my life. You will be missed.

  9. Observer Reply Report comment

    May 4, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    Sounds like a sort of place I would have enjoyed.

  10. seriously? Reply Report comment

    May 4, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    I loved Vic’s pizza. Yes, it was cut in squares and tended to be on the thinner but still chewy crust side. Many people may not recall that it was Vic S. and Tom Barlas that started the Pheasant Run in the 70’s(Later back 40 and the place next door). Tom later bought out Vic. I worked for both of them back then as a boy and loved it. One Greek, one Italian and oh brother could they cook! Vic had a rough voice and could seem intimidating to a kid, but he had a heart of gold and pizza to match.

    All the greats are leaving us now and we’re stuck with young kids like Eric the Mayor who never had to pay any dues or make something from nothing.

    • Katie Reply Report comment

      May 4, 2013 at 1:06 pm

      The sausage at the Vic’s at the old OP had anise in it. That’s what I really loved about it. And there was only one chunk of sausage in each square, but it was sooooo good. It’s hard to find sausage pizza with anise in it now. Gi-Jo’s is the only place I know that puts a little in it. Most places put way too much spice in it for me. No hot spices, please. Just anise.

      • Eventually! Reply Report comment

        May 4, 2013 at 1:20 pm

        That was one round ball of sausage on each square. Sausage, green pepper and onion. A favorite of my crowd. Katie, you are starting to sound whimpy. No hot spices? ;)) Really makes a pizza better. Sprinkles out of the jar as a minimum.

    • Reggie(red) Reply Report comment

      May 4, 2013 at 1:44 pm

      When you say the place next door , do you mean the Papa’s building? If you do ,wasn’t it called It’s Italian or That’s Italian?

      • seriously? Reply Report comment

        May 4, 2013 at 2:11 pm

        Ya, I think it was a pizza place at first. All owned by Bsrlas. I understand his son does all the cooking now. I hope he learned well because Tom Barlas was a damn good cook. The lobster, the surf and turf, the tenderloin, the shrimp and last but least the bananas foster. Barley could do it all and I ate it all. I spent my entire high school career inside the Pheasant Run restaurant.

  11. Reggie(red) Reply Report comment

    May 4, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Vic’s Pizza was the first REAL pizza I ever had and it was great. Like Peter said, great sauce and crisp thin crust. Didn’t he cut the pieces into squares instead of slices? Vic’s was where the closed OP is now. I remember the Shelter Lounge was in the basement with the alley entrance.

    • Eventually! Reply Report comment

      May 4, 2013 at 12:12 pm

      I’m so sorry to hear of Vic’s passing. RIP. Reggie you are right about pizza being at the closed OP place, but it wasn’t Vic’s. Peter is right, on So. Fed. it was. Greatest pizza ever in this town.

    • Katie Reply Report comment

      May 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      Reggie, yes, that place was also called Vic’s pizza. It was there when I went to NIACC in 1969, the pizza there was cut into squares, and it was also great pizza. I don’t know who that Vic was, but I still miss that pizza.

      • Eventually! Reply Report comment

        May 4, 2013 at 12:37 pm

        What? Peter please comment here.

        • Eventually! Reply Report comment

          May 4, 2013 at 12:41 pm

          1969? Guess I’ll back away from this for I didn’t live here then. Katie,maybe you are right. Peter?

        • Peter Children Reply Report comment

          May 4, 2013 at 1:22 pm

          When Vic’s moved to the former OP corner, Vic had already sold out to Gerald Kaller. The Kaller family was in the trucking business here in Mason City at that time. I know Kaller paid an arm and a leg for that business (Vic’) I think he paid $73,000 if my memory serves me right and during that time that was unheard of for a small resturant that did not include the building.

          Vic went on to open 14 pizza houses; he would sell 45% to the manager, keep 55%. Then every three months or so he’d make a swing through the area’s he was located in
          to pick up the skim. It would not be unusual for Vic to have upwards of 35 to 40 thousand in the trunk of his car.

        • Reggie(red) Reply Report comment

          May 4, 2013 at 1:25 pm

          The only pizza place that I remember on south Federal was Tony’s. That was in the 70’s though.

        • Eventually! Reply Report comment

          May 4, 2013 at 1:35 pm

          Jerry Kahler, (Kahler Freight Lines) he comes to mind but not Kaller. Same guy? Anyway when he sold to Kahler, did he change the pizza? Was it exactly the same as what Vic produced. Thx Peter.

        • Reggie(red) Reply Report comment

          May 4, 2013 at 1:37 pm

          OK that explains it.Peter, were the 14 franchises called Vic’s?

        • Peter Children Reply Report comment

          May 4, 2013 at 1:47 pm

          You are right, I misspelled Khalid’s name. He didn’t make it….he started using meat substitutes and cutting corners. His customers stopped coming.

        • Katie Reply Report comment

          May 4, 2013 at 2:29 pm

          I do remember going back there in later years and it wasn’t as good has it had been. That explains why it closed. You can’t cut corners.

      • dave Reply Report comment

        May 5, 2013 at 10:03 am

        Katie,
        That was County Seat Pizza,it was in the old dairy queen building on South Federal.

        • Katie Reply Report comment

          May 5, 2013 at 12:51 pm

          Huh? I don’t remember that place at all. I only remember Vic’s in the old OP. It was close to NIACC when it was in the old high school. I lived on N. Georgia a couple blocks from NIACC.

  12. Mason Cityan Reply Report comment

    May 4, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Neat article with all of the history of Mason City. All those places were before my time, but what an interesting time in history. It would be fun to see pictures of these old establishments.

    When did this pizza place go out of business?

  13. Allen Reply Report comment

    May 4, 2013 at 11:07 am

    I to remember Vic’s, Friday nights out with the guys, drinking beer and eating pizza. Life was good then, where have those carefree days gone.

  14. LVS Reply Report comment

    May 4, 2013 at 11:06 am

    I remember Vic real well from back in the day. My wife and I used to go there all the time before we were married. They just don’t make pizza like that anymore. RIP Vic.

  15. commons sense man Reply Report comment

    May 4, 2013 at 10:53 am

    Way back in the day when I visited my grandparents who lived in Mason City, we always got to go out for pizza at Vics, and this was back when going out for pizza was a big deal. I still remember how good it was. Homemade with the best sausage ever, this story brings me back a number of years thinking about those times.

    Also my irish catholic grandma loved Vic, one reason was if anybody showed up hungry and didnt have the money Vic would feed them a nice meal. She said sometimes they would do dishes or clean up for the meal becuase they respected Vic.

    RIP Vic Santeramo your ticket to heaven was punched by a lifetime of good.