After 37 years serving hand-crafted pizza to generations of Tucsonans, Tino’s Pizza will permanently close its doors on Wednesday, Feb. 2, retiring the legacy of its late owner Dino Chonis.
“After my dad passed, we were only closed for two days. The staff was ready to rally, the community was ready to rally,” said Morgan Chonis, who started working in the restaurant at age 12. “We’ve kept it running the last year and a half, but we decided as a family that it’s time to retire his legacy and let it be that ‘perfect and pure’.”
Dino passed away in April 2020 after a battle with cancer. He opened Tino’s Pizza on Tanque Verde Road in 1984 at the age of 24. At the time, there was already another restaurant named Dino’s, so he decided to combine his name with his sister Tina’s to create the name for Tino’s Pizza.
Although Tino’s can be a great spot for a quick slice, they have forged lasting relationships with generations of families who have frequented the establishment for decades. Instead of closing right away, the Tino’s family wanted to give their community time to enjoy a last meal and show their support before shutting their doors for good.
“It’s a great local place, but I’m sure the closing will create an opportunity for whatever comes next for them,” said Bill Hansen, a first-time customer who made it in before the restaurant shutters.
Being a part of the Tino’s Pizza legacy has been a rite of passage for many. There are current employees who even follow in their parents’ footsteps in Tino’s kitchen. As an owner, Dino’s lessons helped solidify lasting bonds and established a family atmosphere.
“Dino called me four days before he died. I didn’t know it was a goodbye call, but that’s what it was,” said Jon Schmieder, a Tino’s employee from 1988 to 1997.
“It’s not just a pizza joint. You find a culture at a place and realize it has nothing to do with what product gets made there; it’s about the culture that gets created there. He was helping a lot of young people survive and persevere. The legacy and what he gave us is never going to die.”
The Chonis family and their extended Tino’s family of resolute staff members approach the loss as a celebration of life rather than a tragedy. On the day of Dino’s death, community members created a mural of messages to the Tucson legend on the west façade of the building.
The messages range from simple “I love you” to full paragraphs of memories and inside jokes. Of course, the University of Arizona “A” also made it onto the wall, as Tino’s frequently showed UA games and memorabilia.
To celebrate the Tino’s Pizza legacy, staff members from years past returned to “the shop” to “scratch a pie” one last time. Employees from the ’80s, ’90s and on have returned to work short shifts.
For many employees, Tino’s Pizza was their first job. They recall Dino teaching them how to show up, punch the clock and do their job correctly. Although the talks revolved around pizza, the lessons learned still impact their lives today.
“I probably made 2,000 pies in my day,” Schmieder said. “I was able to come in and make my last one with my son standing next to me almost exactly 25 years after my first shift. It hit me as I put the last one into the oven: that’s it, that’s a wrap.”