- Jim Ingram
We’re all familiar with the story of Rocky Balboa—a fictional boxer who went from the quintessential underdog to a champion. Most restaurants hang their shingles under similar circumstances with the food service industry quite possibly being the most competitive of them all. So it’s a highly impressive feat when a restaurant can stay open almost 50 years.
Brian and Sharon Baltzer opened Rocky’s Pizza Ring’s doors, tucked away within the Beaver Valley Shopping Center, in 1970. The place has been host to many a celebratory or consolation meal after Beavercreek High School athletic events. It’s seen plenty of birthday parties, family gatherings and date nights as well.
The place impressed Amy Calcutta’s parents so well, they decided to take a chance and buy the place from the Baltzers in 1989.
“I had never even heard of the place. My father worked for Dayton Medical Oxygen and got laid off. I didn't even know he had the desire to be a pizza place owner/operator. My parents had eaten here a couple times and then, all of a sudden, they came home and said 'We just bought a pizza place.'” she remembers.
A Young Contender
After 21 years, Calcutta’s parents decided to retire. She decided to leave her previous career of managing medical practices and take over the helm. Though the ownership changed hands, the restaurant, which looks pretty much the same as it did back in 1970—right down to the boxing ring-themed dining room—has made few changes to the menu.
“Some people love the fact that we haven’t changed anything. And then you have some people who just can’t get over the fact that it’s not new and there’s not 27 TVs,” Calcutta says.
But 2016 is not 1970. We’re in an era where cheap-o pizza joints seem to pop up every 15 minutes. That may be good for those who can’t afford to spend an extra couple dollars feeding their family, but it’s a shot to the solar plexus for Rocky’s and places like it.
“I make the crust from scratch. We make our own sausage and sauce. I won’t skimp on those recipes, so that means our pricings a little higher than some of your chains. So we struggle with that in the community as well,” explains Calcutta.
Jabs and Jokes
Aside from the great tasting food and unique shrine to some of boxing’s greatest, Rocky’s also offers something few places in the Dayton area have: a comedy night. A childhood friend pitched the idea to Calcutta several years ago. So she took a chance and held an open mic night on the first Monday of every month. Rocky’s has since become the longest running non-comedy club open mics, and a valuable destination for local comics, who never find themselves awash in too many venues. It has even drawn Calcutta’s mother out of retirement.
“(My mom) likes to wait the tables. It’s the only time we wait the tables. She is a horrible table waitress (because) she gets more interested in the show. So we have to keep an eye on that. The comics love her,” Calcutta jokes.
“We don’t censor them on what they say. Sometimes you get good ones, sometimes you don’t. But (the comics) need a place to practice before they hit the stage. There’s no cover charge and we do half-price pitchers. That’s the compensation for coming in. Sometimes you laugh and sometimes you don’t. But at least the food is good and the beer is cheap.”
Calcutta’s father also came out of retirement earlier this year after an injury forced her to consider selling the business. He prepped the food during the day so she could open and take orders at night.
But, much like the story of Rocky Balboa, the challenges have become greater. The shopping center tenants were dealt an upper cut when Lofino’s Marketplace, once the staple of the Beavercreek community, closed its doors for good last year. Calcutta was forced to close her lunch service and says she and the remaining business owners are concerned.
But she fights on.
“It’s definitely harder. In addition to the shopping center not having a huge draw anymore, you pass so many new restaurants and every place that opens makes pizza. But there’s a lot of pride that goes into (my) food. I wouldn’t make everything from scratch if I didn’t think it would be the best that I could offer,” she contends.
“It’s time consuming-- blood, sweat and tears. There’s a lot of love here and it’s stood the test of time. Rocky’s is never going to make me millions and millions of dollars, but it makes me enough that I can get by and am content.”