Uptown Pizza : The Legendary Youngstown Pizza that has been overlooked for the last time
Updated: Sep 12, 2020
The year was 1977. A young Boardman Ohio woman was pregnant with her second child. Many expectant mothers have different food cravings while pregnant (I remember my wife craving shelled peanuts and Twix candy bars). This particular woman in 1977 had an incredible craving for a very specific pizza….Uptown Pizza. During much of her pregnancy, Uptown Pizza was a regular meal of choice on her weekly menu. The amount of Uptown Pizza consumed during her pregnancy probably had a lot to do with why this baby weighed 9 pounds 9 ounces when he was born.
If you have not figured it out already, this is the story of my mother and me. I was born on 7/7/77 at 7:00AM. You can make the argument that I was blessed with the birthday of lucky 7’s because I was lucky to have been fed Uptown Pizza for 9 months. To this day, I say that I was born with Uptown Pizza’s sauce running through my veins.
When my daughter and I started posting videos on our Facebook Page “Youngstown Pizza Reviews”, we knew that the people of Youngstown and its surrounding areas took their pizza pretty serious. We knew that everybody in town was a self-proclaimed “Pie Professional”. Everyone has their favorite spot. Everyone has their favorite topping. For me, Uptown Pizza will always be my favorite spot, and Uptown Pizza will always be the Gold Standard for all local Youngstown pizza.
We started this new website, with hopes of it eventually being the go to spot for all things related to Youngstown Pizza. Part of the website will be a monthly spotlight on a specific Youngstown Pizza Shop. We will sit down with the owners, get a bit of the back story of the business, and give our readers an insight into the pizzas we all love so much.
When deciding who would be the first spotlight, there was absolutely no other option for us. Uptown Pizza had to be the first spotlight.
I began looking for information about Uptown Pizza and found very little online. I could find no newspaper articles, no news coverage, no interviews, nothing. I began to get irritated and offended that no one had spotlighted them before. Around the same time, on a trip back from out of state, we stopped at a rest stop and I snagged a Youngstown travel guide. While looking through this magazine, towards the back I found a page dedicated to Youngstown Pizza. There is a brief write up about the history of Youngstown Pizza with a handful of pizza spots listed. I scanned through the list and saw one very large emission….NO UPTOWN PIZZA!! No disrespect to some of the pizza shops listed, but there are a few listed that are not in the same league as Uptown Pizza. I know for a fact, from both the people I know personally, and the hundreds and hundreds of comments on our pizza reviews, that Uptown Pizza has a cult like following of loyal fans. Youngstown Pizza fanatics almost unanimously put Uptown in their Youngstown Pizza Mount Rushmore. It became overly clear to me that Uptown Pizza had not been given the respect that they deserved. My mission became clear. Uptown Pizza is long overdue to get a write up for the thousands and thousands of loyal Youngstown Pizza fans who put this pie on a pedestal.
Through social media, I was able to get in contact with Starr Campbell, daughter of the owner of Uptown Pizza, Mark Campbell. Starr also manages the Belmont Avenue location. Starr reached out to her Dad, and the three of us sat down one sunny afternoon at Shaker’s Bar and Grille on Belmont Avenue to talk about the history of Uptown Pizza.
It did not take me long to realize that Mark was a stand-up straight shooting guy. Mark is a man who is not afraid of hard work. Mark is old school to the bone (don’t expect him to pull out a smartphone any time soon). It also did not take long to see that this work ethic has been passed down to Starr. Whether she is putting in an 80 hour work week or opening early to fulfill loyal customer’s orders, this family puts in the work to make us all the best Pizza in town. There is no denying that.
Our conversation began with the story of the original founding father of Uptown Pizza “Buffalo Joe” Marino. A question that I had written down had already been answered in the first minute of our conversation…."Where did the name Little Joe (their small personal pizza) come from”?
The "Little Joe"
“Buffalo Joe” started Uptown Pizza in the early 1950’s at its original spot at 2810 Market Street. In the mid 60’s Uptown Pizza was 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 being 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. Somewhere around April of 1989, due to a conflict with the owners of the building they were in on South Avenue, they moved from their location on South Avenue to 4605 Market Street. In 1999 Jim Campbell's son Mark took ownership of Uptown Pizza. Uptown Pizza in Boardman Ohio moved into their current home at 6041 Market Street about 5 years ago. The Belmont Avenue location remains in its same original location at 2940 Belmont Avenue.
To me, Uptown Pizza’s sauce is what hits the spot the most. The crust and cheese are both top notch, but the sauce hits you right in the soul. I asked if this was the same sauce recipe through the years, and was glad to hear it was….with one exception. “The original sauce had green peppers in it” says owner Mark Campbell. “After the hundredth time picking out green peppers when a customer requested, we decided to stop cooking them in the sauce”. Their famous Wedding Soup is also the original recipe from “Buffalo Joe”.
I asked Starr how many people knew the sauce recipe, to which she stated “Three!!! Myself, my Dad, and my Husband”. I told Starr that I hope they all never fly on the same plane together. Youngstown would not be the same if that recipe got forgotten
The Sauce Kettle where the magic happens
Mark also had many tales to tell of local celebrities stopping in to get his pizza. Tales like that of legendary local news broadcaster Tom Holden stopping in multiple times per week between the 6 o’clock and 11 o’clock news to “refuel” on his way back to the news station (“Tom was an amazing man” Mark stated). Mark also spoke of Youngstown’s own boxing royalty, former middleweight champion of the world Kelly Pavlik. “Kelly and his brother stop in all the time” Mark says “They are extremely loyal customers”
I reached out to Kelly to ask him what it is about Uptown Pizza that he loves so much. “I don’t know how to explain it….Youngstown is loaded with great pizza! Right between New York Style and Chicago Style, Uptown’s pizza just hits the spot! The cheese tastes great, their sauce is very good, and the crust/dough is delicious!!!”
At Uptown Pizza Mark has built a customer’s first approach to pizza. “We will customize our pizzas however the customer wants it. If they want the pepperoni on top, we will do it, if they want foil underneath to keep it hot, we will do it. We want the customer to always be happy…that is our #1 priority”
This approach is what has quietly built this cult like following of Uptown Pizza fanatics throughout the years….top notch customer service, blue collar old school Youngstown Ohio work ethic, and a pizza that has a taste like no other. A beautiful 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 Youngstown as it gets. Amazing quality, built on the backs of a hardworking family, but all too often overlooked.
I said it before, and I will say it again. Uptown Pizza is the Gold Standard for Youngstown Pizza….and it is about damn time they get the attention they deserve!!
Uptown Pizza owner Mark Campbell and his daughter Starr