My wife and I were born and raised in the Quad Cities, home of John Deere Farm Equipment and some of the best pizza in the world. As a child I grew up with one of my best friends, Tony Maniscalco Jr., who was the son of Tony Maniscalco Sr., and Grandson of Frank Maniscalco who came to the Quad Cities from Chicago in the 1950’s. Frank actually came to the United States from Naples, Italy. In the mid 1950’s they operated the restaurant in what was called the Paddock Club in downtown Rock Island, which was later known as the Yankee Clipper. They brought with them the unique Italian family pizza recipes that had been handed down to them. They were known for the best, and first, pizza served in the Quad Cities. This is where it all began! Years later Frank opened Tony’s Pizza on Locust Street in Davenport, Iowa. At the age of 13, Tony Jr. and I would work in the restaurants on weekends and during summer vacation. We were paid $1.00 per hour and got to take home a pizza at the end of the evening. My love for pizza was born!!! At the time Uncle Frank would have me stand on a milk crate just so I could reach the pizza oven. We made everything from scratch from his family’s old world recipes, Italian sausage, dough and, of course, the famous zesty pizza sauce.
In the late 1950’s a friend of my fathers, Lenny Harris and his wife Mary owned a small package liquor store in Rock Island. Many of the locals were always asking Lenny if he sold anything to eat…sandwiches, etc. So Lenny got the idea that food maybe an additional source of income. So he thought about sandwiches and a few other possibilities. A good friend of Lenny’s, Dick Kennedy, who was actually working for the Maniscalco’s as a pizza cook at the Paddock Club in Rock Island, was contacted for pizza recipe ideas. So after some discussion, and Dick’s expertise with the Maniscalco family’s recipes, the idea was born to offer pizza for sale at Harris Liquor. In 1960 Dick and Lenny traveled to Chicago where they purchased a used pizza oven with their combined $500.00 and hauled it back to Rock Island. They became partners and Harris Pizza was born. Dick Kennedy later went on to open his own pizzeria in Milan, Illinois called the Pizza Joint. Lenny Harris retired in 1995 and later died. Dick Kennedy still owns the Pizza Joint along with his son, Greg, and serves up the same wonderful Italian pizza today. I first tried Pizza Joint pizza in 1995 while visiting my future father-in-law in the Quad Cities. I was hooked! After a great deal of negotiation and discussion, I was able to obtain the original pizza recipes and Fat Jack’s Pizza was born! My wife, Jean, and I wanted to bring to Peoria a very special pizza, one that we grew up on and love, and one that’s comprised of the finest and freshest ingredients possible.
On November 4, 2014 with the assistance of our loving family, especially my dear mother-in-law, Eugenia Murphy, we opened Fat Jack’s Pizza — where we not only serve a true piece of pizza history but also the best pizza in Peoria!
Mark & Jean Gustafson-Mannen
Owners of Fat Jack’s Pizza LLC