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A Valley thing unites former residents

January 29, 2012
By ESTHER MCCOY - Staff writer (emccoy@heraldstaronline.com) , The Herald-Star

What is the one food item that everyone craves while watching football games? If the thought of pizza comes to mind, you are entirely right. And according to a story written by Robin Yocum, a writer with an Ohio Valley upbringing, coming from the Brilliant community, the name that comes to mind is DiCarlo's pizza.

A story written about Ohio Valleyians, those now transplanted to the Columbus area, appearing in the Columbus Monthly Magazine, has DiCarlo's pizza lovers all over the country sending Yocum e-mails with their memories of the tomato and cheese specialty. "It has now gone viral," he wrote in an e-mail.

Valley people now living in Columbus will tell you that the valley is a "Great place to grow up. Great people. No jobs, man," Yocum wrote.

"The valley we loved has been decimated, and people are heading West. Fortunately, we didn't find anything in Zanesville and kept coming until we hit I-270," was one comment in the Columbus Monthly story.

"The emerging population has fortified Steelers bars, increased attendance at the Columbus Italian Festival, spurred Ohio Valley Night at Gresso's and prompted the creation of the Ohio Valley Club of Columbus," Yocum said.

While the migration has been impressive, to many Central Ohio natives it has been more like an invasion of funny-talking folks who refer to groups of people as "yunz guys," according to Yocum.

He did mention Dino Tripodis, who toiled at the blast furnace for Weirton Steel before leaving to go to Ohio State University and then became a standup comedian and co-host of Sunny 95's morning "Dino and Stacy" and "Shawn and Stacy Again" shows.

"Tripodis offers a simple explanation for the fascination with the valley," said Yocum.

"Steubenville is the center of the universe. That's a fact. Give me six degrees of separation, and I can bring anything in the world back to Steubenville," Tripodis said.

George Kademenos, a Wheeling native, is the founder of the Ohio Valley Club of Columbus. He started it in 2008 as a way for transplants to socialize and network. The club has more than 300 members and meets quarterly, rotating at three restaurants operated by former Ohio Valleyians, Gresso's, Bel-Lago and the Wyandotte Winery.

"We were a stewpot of colorful names, reflecting various nationalities, including ones recognizable to sports fans, such as Mazeroski, Havlicek and Niekro. And of course, there was a certain famous Rat Packer known in the valley as Dino Crocetti, Dean Martin to everybody else," Yocum wrote.

The club in Columbus has been a great way for Valleyians to meet and do business with like-minded people, it was noted. A variety of successful Central Ohio business types with valley roots could be named, but the "Big Kahuna" of successful Valley business types is the late John H. McConnell. He was founder of Worthington Industries, the man who brought the Blue Jackets to Columbus and built the McConnell Heart Hospital. He came from Pughtown, W.Va., according to Yocum in his story.

Johnny DiLoretto, who appears every weekday morning on "Good Day Columbus," admits he longs for the Steubenville of his youth.

"I miss the rich, ethnic heritage of the valley when I was growing up. There's something about the geography, the hills and river, that acts like a magnetic pull for people. I think that is why you see people from the valley congregating together," he said.

Tripodis and DiLoretto put on a show at the 2011 Columbus Italian Festival, singing 13 Dean Martin songs to a tent packed full of Ohio Valleyians. Reviews were favorable but the duo was reportedly so starved for applause they resorted to such tawdry tactics as yelling out "Let's hear it for East Liverpool! and How about it, Follansbee!," it was noted.

Eric Gresak came to Columbus from Wheeling and became a school teacher after college. His dream, however, was to open his own restaurant, which he did at 961 S. High St. in 2007. Gresso's was named the best Steelers bar in the city by Columbus Monthly in 2008. The restaurant is decorated with ball caps and football helmets from high school teams in the valley. One Martins Ferry Purple Riders helmet has 40 signatures from former players who have stopped by the restaurant.

"Columbus is a great city but not as friendly as the valley," Gresak said. "When you meet another person from the valley, there's an instant connection. I think that is the primary reason people from the valley gravitate to each other. There's a sense of trust."

Gresso's is a magnet for Ohio Valleyians, not only when the Steelers play but on the last Wednesday of each month when it hosts Valley Night. Gresak drives to Wheeling to pick up boxes of DiCarlo's pizza and fish from Coleman's Fish Market, another valley thing.

"Here's another thing Central Ohioans don't get. You eat Coleman's fish on two slices of Wonder bread. What would it hurt to put it on a bun? But I didn't want to be ostracized by breaking with tradition," he said.

Gresak buys the pizza cooked and covered in sauce so it needs only to be reheated and the cheese added when he gets to the restaurant. He brings back 15 boxes and sells out nearly every time.

One young lady was said to be in tears when it was gone by 9:30 p.m., and she did not get even one piece. She started to pucker up and tears filled her eyes.

"A former valley resident, such as myself, would understand perfectly. Yeah, I get it. If it's DiCarlo's, I'd cry, too. It's a valley thing," Yocum said.

DiCarlo's is one of the things that makes memories of the Ohio Valley, and many picked up on the "Invasion from the East" story and sent it on. Besides receiving the story from Robin, I received it from Florence Turnbull from Florida who received it from Nina Day of Washington, D.C. Good memories really travel.

(McCoy, a resident of Smithfield, is food editor and a staff columnist for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. She can be contacted at emccoy@heraldstaronline.com.)

 
 

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