Three generations help Red Banjo Pizza maintain its tradition
Park City has changed drastically over the last 50 years, but one small corner of Main Street is holding tight to its roots.
Red Banjo Pizza, located at 322 Main St., has been standing since 1962. The restaurant’s signs and old photos on the wall have remained for decades, but perhaps the most enduring element of the restaurant is the family that started it. Red Banjo Pizza has now been in the family for three generations, and Marylou Toly, who opened the restaurant, is now 81.
The well-known pizza parlor is currently managed by Scott Toly, Marylou’s son, and Tana Toly, Marylou’s granddaughter. But Scott and Tana said every family member has helped keep the restaurant running throughout its history.
“If you’re part of our family, you’ve had to work here,” Tana said.
Many things have not changed since the restaurant’s opening. The original bar, bar stools and cash register remain from the bar that inhabited the space before the Red Banjo moved in. The building was constructed in 1900.
But, the menu has evolved. When Marylou, then 23, and her husband at the time opened Red Banjo in 1962, it was a bar that only served beer. They catered to miners and residents until what is now known as Park City Mountain Resort opened six months later.
About 10 years into the business venture, the bar added 12-inch pizzas to the menu and took on a new identity. Ski bums and families started frequenting the restaurant. Red Banjo Pizza kept its menu to beer and pizza for the next few decades, then slowly added items like garlic bread and sandwiches. Today, the pizza parlor prides itself on its simple menu that does not stray too far from the original staples that made it successful.
Scott and his siblings began working in the restaurant as soon as they were able. Scott said if he wanted a slice of pizza for dinner, he often had to wait tables or do dishes in exchange.
Then, after Scott got married and started having kids, his children were raised inside the restaurant, too. He said Tana used to sleep in the bassinet in the kitchen while her mother waited tables. When Tana was 5 years old, she started waiting tables herself.
The restaurant went through some changes in the 1990s and 2000s. The family ran a small convenience store called Main Street Grocer on the lower floor for about eight years before converting it to a party room with arcade games. They painted the walls and added photos of Main Street in the 1900s to the walls. Then, they built stairs to access an upper deck for outdoor eating.
As Park City changed during the post-Olympic boom, the Red Banjo held onto its reputation as a family-friendly restaurant where visitors could grab a bite to eat on a budget.
Tana eventually took over the restaurant, but she handed the reins back to her father a few years later when she left to live in Colorado. Still, she said it was common for her to be called into work and have to travel back to Utah. She recently returned to Park City and is now operating the restaurant with her father again.
Tana and Scott both consider the restaurant their second home. When they walk in, they remember things like selling green Jell-O during the crazy weeks of the 2002 Winter Olympics, and the assortment of celebrities who have dropped in during the Sundance Film Festival.
When Tana looks at the part of the restaurant’s wall covered in dollars from guests, she remembers when she and her friends accidentally started it as a child. She used to decorate napkins and pin them to the wall, but the tradition eventually evolved to guests drawing on dollar bills and other currency and sticking them to the wall. Now, the restaurant donates the money on the wall to organizations involved with cancer research and treatment.
Tana loves when old guests drop in and bring their own memories.
“Some of my favorite stories are people coming back to Park City and saying, ‘I met my wife here,’ or ‘This was my first date,’” she said.
Scott said several people have gotten engaged in the restaurant over the years, and it is nice that they can come back and see the restaurant they visited years ago is still standing.
“If you grew up in Park City and you come back to town and you haven’t been here for 10 or 15 years and you see the Red Banjo, you come in,” he said. “You know the people who own it, it’s something familiar.”
Tana said she loves to be the place people can return to time and again over the years. For her and her father, the restaurant has become their second home. They are excited to keep serving pizza and beer to guests in Park City for as long as they can. And with Marylou’s ambitious 6-year-old great-grandson who calls himself the assistant chef of the restaurant, the family legacy is likely to continue.
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