By Sandra Zunino
Opened July 1, 1976, the Kent Island Pizza Hut is celebrating its 35th anniversary all the way through Labor Day.
Owned by Mark E. Galasso, Valentine Schulze Galasso and their son, Cory Galasso, the Pizza Hut franchise was the first “big name fast food chain” permitted in Queen Anne’s County. “There were a lot of people who said they didn’t want a fast food chain restaurant on the shore,” says Valentine. “We understood their dilemma and weighed it all out and in the end the commissioners approved our request.”
That decision opened the door for more fast food chains in the area, according to Valentine. “Hardees wasn’t too far behind us by a couple months,” she says. “Then McDonald’s opened a year later.”
A family-owned business, Valentine’s uncle, Robert Schulze launched the franchise with Pizza Hut of Maryland using funds he borrowed from his brother, Valentine’s father – Van Schulze. Van received the franchise rights to Queen Anne’s, Kent and Caroline counties as payment. Van, who retired from the Civil Aviation Administration and his wife, Harriet soon built the Kent Island Pizza Hut. They later opened restaurants in Chestertown, Centreville and Denton, but eventually closed the Centreville location.
Just prior to accepting the franchise, Van was assigned a post in Iran. Because Valentine was in high school and wanted to graduate with her class, he declined the position in favor of the restaurant venture. “Luckily, he didn’t accept the post because that was the year they bombed the Iranian Embassy,” says Valentine.
Valentine took over the role of president when her father passed away in 1981, and her husband, Mark assumed the position of vice president in 1983. The Galasso’s oldest son, Christopher lives in Maine. Their youngest son Cory replaced Harriet as Secretary/Treasurer last November when she passed away. Like it’s owners, some of the restaurant’s employees also span two generations. “The kids who worked for us then, have kids who work for us now,” says Valentine.
Valentine, herself, began learning the business as a waitress, then progressed to kitchen duties and eventually learned bookkeeping procedures at the Maryland franchise headquarters in Baltimore. “Dad made me go through the line-up,” she says.
While its location remains the same, the restaurant’s menu and décor have changed throughout the years. “Back then, we had the dark interior, the fireplace and candles on all the tables,” says Valentine.
While the fireplace is now covered, the observation window allowing patrons to watch pizza-cooks hand-roll the dough still exists. “You never see the kitchen at all in most restaurants,” Valentine points out.
As a way to thank its hometown customers for their continued patronage, Kent Island Pizza Hut will be offering free Cinnamon Sticks or Chocolate Dunkers with any pizza purchase (including Personal Pans) until Labor Day for local customers. Giveaways, such as a picnic table, beach umbrella, free pizza party and more will also be offered during Labor Day weekend.
For more information, contact Kent Island Pizza Hut at 410-643-2700.