Smilin’ Fritz, the Front to Cincinnati’s Only German Pizza Chain

A Germantown Pizza Hoagie with a side of crinkle fries was my Friday fall dinner during high school in the late ‘80s.    We’d walk the block along Vine street from school to restaurant in St. Bernard and  kill time eating and playing pool  before marching down Vine Street to Roger Bacon Stadium to play the fight song and perform a very entertaining half time show.    I don’t remember much about the pizza, but I never thought it was odd that we were actually eating what was branded “German” pizza.    As a Cincinnatian of deep Germanic heritage, it just made sense.    But, if they were really going to go all German with pizza, the founders really should have called it flammkuchen – after all – it was a rye flour-based  dough.     Today one can get the area’s best thin crusted rye sourdough flammkuchen at Tuba Baking in Covington, Kentucky.

Germantown Pizza started as VIPizza in 1970 by Don and Bill Scheuler, two brothers of Germanic heritage from Price Hill who owned Schueler’s Restaurant Inc., which included Smorgasboards, catering, VIPizza and Fun Foods, in Cincinnati.     Their first Germantown Pizza was the St. Bernard location I frequented in high school, which opened in 1973.    By 1975 they had already franchised 11 locations.  But in 1976 they amped up their franchising, with a new look, a new logo, and a mission to have 30 franchise locations by the end of the year in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, Lexington, and southwest Ohio.

Their campaign included the slogan, “The Pizza with the Crazy Name, People are Crazy about.”   And their franchise campaign started, “Funny Name for a Zinzinnati Pizza?  Not really.   You don’t have to be Italian or German to own one of the fastest growing pizza chains in Greater Cincinnati.”

In addition to St. Bernard, there was a location on West Galbraith Road in North College Hill across from the Budna, owned by Kathy and Emerson Woods.   Harold Thomas and his daughter Cindy owned the large 52 seat location in Blue Ash on Cooper Road.    Bob and Bea Metz owned the Mt. Washington pizzeria.  The owner of the Northside location at 4144 Hamilton Avenue, John Falcone, also ran the Northside Boxing club across the street – Like Buddy LaRosa, who funded the Findlay Street and Emmanuel Community Center Boxing Clubs.    Most of the early Cincinnati locations were designed to look like German beer stubes, with stucco walls, rough brick and dark wood cross beams.   They had Reuben sandwiches and Fritz Salads, along with standard pizza fare, hoagies, chicken, shrimp, and fish and chips.     The pizza sauce was brown and sweet – more similar to Pasquale’s sauce than LaRosa’s sauce, and if you ordered onions, they would be circle cut and a bit crunchy.

New franchise restaurants would include a beer stube, an outdoor beer garden, and some would even include a line of German foods, along with the standard American pizza fare.    They developed a mascot they named Smilin’ Fritz, although his furrowed dark eyebrows made him look more sinister than ‘gemutlichkeit.’    Fritz had a crewcut and a thick Prussian curly handlebar moustache like Emperor Friedrich Wilhelm, a checkered shirt and tie in a tight red hip vest and apron, and ankle boots.   He carried a pizza in his left hand and a foamy overflowing beer stein in his right – the archetype of a stern and stout Prussian Pizza Proprietor, if there was such a thing.    The Covington location, opened by Ralph Osborne in 1976, had a Fritz’s Favorite Topper pizza with sauerkraut, sausage and provolone cheese.

That same year, their partner and pizza dough specialist, Walter Potter invented Cincinnati’s first German pizza, which they called the “Deutsch Schussel.”   It was a deep dish crust described as a French gourmet puff pastry, which could be filled with a variety of ingredients including German sausage.   Potter’s rye based pizza crust was unique to the commercial pizza industry.    His rye buns for the hoagies were also unique for Cincinnati pizza hoagies.

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