Generation next: granddaughter takes over the Red Banjo
Tana Toly Ireland is the fourth generation of her family to graduate from Park City High School. She’s now the third generation to run the Red Banjo Pizza Parlour on Main Street.
Her grandmother, Mary Lou Toly, opened the restaurant as a young woman in 1962 to feed construction workers and teenagers. Now Tana and her husband David have agreed to take the reins.
This year marks Tana’s 22nd helping with the business and she’s still a young woman. With the exception of 14 months when she and David tried to start a new life in San Diego, Tana has been an employee at the Red Banjo since she started serving tables at age five.
The matriarch Toly said she’s excited to see the Irelands take it over and has been impressed by additions the young couple has made such as a game/party room in the basement and new gourmet toppings to the menu.
Tana’s father, Scott, will stay on to help run the kitchen and give advice. His siblings Steven and Roxanne all helped in the restaurant’s 46-year history. Scott jokes that as a family business there have been times when cribs were set up in the kitchen.
Steven now runs his own branch of the business in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho.
After spending her entire young life in the restaurant, Mary Lou jokes that Tana had vowed to leave and never return. The Irelands both got jobs in the subprime mortgage industry in southern California but began to reconsider when they heard Mary Lou was looking into selling the business.
"At the end of the day we’re working for something that will be ours and not for The Man. It’s something we can give to our children," Tana said. "We would’ve lost our jobs anyway, so it was a really good thing."
Now all three generations even live on the same street.
David said he waited tables during college and knew what he was getting into, but the appeal was doing something together with his new wife.
"Cubicle walls get so confining and I made a lot of money for a CEO who got fired, now I’m working for myself and my family," he said.
Mary Lou is obviously pleased to see the Red Banjo stay in the family, and see changes that will keep it fresh and hip. But she also jokes about the difficulty in running a pizza parlor.
She bought the former tavern at a young age of 24 and says if she was smarter she’d never done it. But 46 years of perfecting her recipes and being an anchor on Main Street has turned the Red Banjo into a favorite of tourists, a gathering place for visiting former Parkites and a hang-out for celebrities like Tom Hanks and Michael J. Fox.
Scott and Mary Lou attribute their success to consistency, longevity and the hard work of family members.
Amber Lees, an employee at another business on Main Street, stopped in last Friday for lunch and had a slice of mushroom pizza.
"It was amazing, the best I’ve had and I eat pizza nearly everyday," she said.
Although the Irelands once wanted out of small Park City, they now say they feel honored to be given the chance to stay, and live and work with family.
They also have big ideas for the future. David said he’d like to see Red Banjo locations in resort towns across the West and perhaps a few more here in Utah.
The Red Banjo Pizza Parlour
322 Main Street
New since September: a downstairs party room and additions to the menu
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Park City Mountain Resort owner Vail Resorts in early June submitted a letter to the Park City Planning Commission in support of a Provo developer’s blueprints for a major project at the resort.