Tony DeRango started helping his dad at the restaurant when he was 10.
BY KATIE MATTESON
Giovanni DeRango immigrated to the United States in 1949 at the age of 18. His uncle and aunt, Henry and Carmela Wells, greeted him and his brother, Mario, at the train station with a photograph to help them identify the young men from Marano Principato, Italy.
The brothers stayed with the Wells family in Racine until they could get established.
Not speaking any English when he arrived, Giovanni, who became known as “John,” got his first job at Melli Candy Manufacturing Co. on State Street and later found work at Fox Ice, Hanche Farm, Kappus Bakery and Belle City Foundry.
It was at Belle City that one of his co-workers encouraged him to leave his foundry job to start a restaurant after he’d tasted John’s authentic Italian pizza.
In the fall of 1953, just four years after his arrival in America, John opened his first restaurant in leased space on the corner of North Main and Kewaunee streets. He hired his co-worker from Belle City to help him in the kitchen to prepare American food like hamburgers while he made the Italian food.
The young immigrant had begun his career as DeRango The Pizza King. Little did he know that he would go on to establish five more restaurants in Racine during his lifetime and many of those who learned from him would go on to start their own restaurants throughout the area.
After marrying the former Filomena “Phyllis” Cairo in 1957, the couple bought a building at 619 High St. and opened a DeRango The Pizza King restaurant there. They were one of the first in town to offer carryouts and stay open until 2 a.m. on the weekends. After transitioning the business into Chubbie’s Pizzeria in 1997, the DeRangos sold it in 1998.
In 1960, the couple established a second location at the corner of West Boulevard and Washington Avenue near the former MRK train tracks that once passed through West Racine. They sold that restaurant in 1984 to the Tenuta family.
DeRango The Pizza King expanded north in 1964 when John and Phyllis purchased the former Dairy Delight burger and custard shop on 6 Mile Road, at the crossroads with Highway 31 and Highway 32. They added a dining room the next year, expanded in 1977 and remodeled the restaurant in 1997.
A major expansion took place in 1982 when they opened the 18,000-square foot Giovanni DeRango’s Supper Club and sold it in 1989, when they decided to return their focus back to DeRango The Pizza King.
John’s son Tony DeRango is honoring his dad’s legacy this fall by celebrating the 65th anniversary of the family business at its two locations, 4621 6 Mile Rd. and 1439 N. Main St.
Tony, the youngest of John and Phyllis’ four children, started working alongside his dad at the age of 10. He remembers spending Saturday mornings at the restaurant, standing on a stool so he could reach the dough roller.
Tony began assuming responsibility for the management of the restaurant in 1992 and full ownership in 1997. Even after retirement, Tony said his father never stopped coming to work until his death in 2005 at the age of 74.
Tony introduced DeRango Premium Frozen Foods in 2002 to grow the company and expand its reach. He sells handmade frozen pizza for retail, wholesale and fundraising in Racine, Kenosha and Milwaukee.
In 2008, the building that housed his dad’s first location on North Main Street became available and Tony bought it. He also purchased the Phoenix Chocolate Shoppe, the successor of his dad’s first employer, and moved it to the building.
Tony’s wife Brenda took over the candy-making operation at the chocolate shoppe in 2010 and is now assisted by daughters Abby, Katie and Anna.
With the addition of a hearth pizza oven, just like ones at the 6 Mile Road location, the chocolate shop added a pizzeria in 2013 and brought The Pizza King’s legacy full circle.
Tony still works about 70 hours a week and uses his dad’s recipes and cooking techniques he learned through the years. And he still makes custard using the same brand of equipment and purchases the mix from the same family his dad started doing business with in the 1960s.
He’s proud of his dad’s accomplishments and his legacy.
Tony’s business advice: “Never forget where you came from.”
For more information about DeRango The Pizza King and Steakhouse, call (262) 639-0864 or visit derangothepizzaking.com.
For more information about DeRango The Pizza King and Phoenix Chocolate, call (262) 637-0230 or visit derangoschocolate.com.