Midway district family-owned pizza parlor serves three generations

With national restaurant chains coming and going, find out why families, sports clubs, and groups keep Pizza Baron going …

Not only does Pizza Baron serve three generations of customers; they employ three generations of outer East Portland folks.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
As fads in restaurants come and go, one locally-owned establishment has maintained its charm by serving the same high-quality food – in warm, inviting surroundings – as it did 30 years ago.

Pizza Baron, at 2604 S.E. 122nd Avenue, in the shopping center just south of SE Division Street, looks pretty much like it did when it opened – wood paneled walls, cozy booths, and long tables to allow large groups of folks to sit together.

Pizza steeped in East Portland history
It was opened by original the “baron of pizza” in outer East Portland, Rob Robinson. He first operated a franchise, Hokey’s Pizza Parlors, at SE 92 Avenue and SE Stark Street. After going out on his own, Robinson renamed his restaurant Pizza Baron. He opened several restaurant locations, and later sold them; the original location remains in operation – now named Stark Street Pizza.

When Bill Dayton, a young car-racing fan turned 21, he went to work for Robinson. What started as a “temporary job” for Dayton turned out to be a career and business, as he went on to manage – and in 1983, buy – the Midway area Pizza Baron location on SE 122nd Avenue.

Long tables and benches make it easy for large groups to sit and dine together.

Community service a priority
“I realized we couldn’t compete against big national chains by going head-to-head with them,” said Dayton, who grew up at SE 64th Avenue and Powell Boulevard. “My wife and I decided to try to build a business by helping our community as much as we could, by supporting sports teams and clubs in the David Douglas Schools, community groups, car clubs, and organizations.”

Over the years, the strategy paid off. “By offering good food at a fair price, providing good service, and giving people a comfortable place to meet, three generations of East Portlanders are now coming in.”

Dayton, and his son Jeff who co-manages the restaurant, are still active in the community. In addition to hosting the Midway Business Association meetings, their business still takes an active role in the community by providing pizza for school and civic organizations’ events. For example, in December, they supplied dozens of pizzas for the Department of Human Services’ Children’s Services holiday party – during the blizzard! (CLICK HERE to read this article.)

Although it’s been years since Dayton’s been auto racing, he still enjoys the company of vintage auto enthusiasts, and hosts two cruise-in events a year in the restaurant’s parking lot.

Hot meal delivery
The restaurant seats 200 and can host groups of up to 75 people, we learned. Although Pizza Baron is a family restaurant, complete with a fully-equipped game room, they have nine beers on tap, and Oregon Lottery games for adults.

But, unlike many other pizza parlors, they also offer delivery service in outer East Portland. “Over the years, loyal customers have made our delivery service successful. And yes, during the blizzard, our delivery business increased substantially.”

Booths provide couples and families a cozy place to enjoy “Just possibly the finest pizza anywhere”.

We asked Dayton to share his “secret of success” for running a thriving business over the decades.

“Other than adding new pizza ovens recently, we haven’t changed things,” Dayton replied. “We haven’t cut back on quality. And, we still provide flexible work schedules for our employees. People who have worked here in the past now have kids – and grandkids – who come here to work.”

For more information, check their website: www.pizzabaron.net, or call them at (503) 761-1799.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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