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Saturday September 23rd 2017

“Look What Pizza Bought”

(First published in October 2011 in OKIE Magazine)

When I heard the news that Rose Bianco had passed, I was saddened – just as many who live, or have lived, in Lawton were. Four generations of Lawtonians have come to love the food, the old-world charm, and most of all, the dressing that Bianco’s has brought to the Lawton-Ft. Sill area. I recently sat down with Jann Bianco, one of Rose’s daughter-in-laws, to find out how Bianco’s became the institution that it is today.

During the late 1940s, John Bianco and his young wife, Rose, were stationed at Ft. Sill. After leaving the army to move back to upstate New York, it didn’t take John much time to start missing the milder climate and the calmer winters that southwest Oklahoma afforded. He asked Rose if they could move back to Lawton “for just two years”, open an Italian restaurant, then he’d be happy to move back to New York. They opened Bianco’s Italian Restaurant in 1952 and the rest is history.

In preparation for the Italian restaurant, John found that the wonderful Italian meats and cheeses weren’t easy to come by in southwest Oklahoma, so he had them shipped from New York to Lawton. When he opened and started selling his pies, it took only a short time for the soldiers, who were familiar with pizza pies from New York, to spread the word about Bianco’s down on Second Street. At the time, there were no pizza boxes available, so John used dress boxes from a local dress shop. They weren’t the best fit, but they served their purpose.

It was during this time that people started falling in love with the dressing that has become famous for its exceptional, garlic taste. While I didn’t get the recipe, I did get the story. When John and Rose were newly married, Rose was making dinner and ran out of salad dressing. She looked in her cupboard and put together a dressing from what she had, and made it taste like the dressing she had eaten as a child. When John ate it he said that if they ever owned a restaurant, this is the dressing they would serve. People will come in and have a salad, and end up drinking the dressing from their bowl. Several years ago, Jann, her husband Chris, and Rose got the idea that they would market their dressing for mass production. Because Bianco’s dressing is made fresh daily, they could never get the taste just right. The pasteurization process changed the taste, if they sold it fresh it would need to be refrigerated (it has a tendency to ferment when allowed to stay warm for any length of time), and the kicker…it doesn’t taste the same if it isn’t made with Lawton’s tap water, so selling the dry ingredients wouldn’t work either. The dream of mass producing the dressing didn’t happen, but you can still purchase fresh dressing at Bianoc’s during normal business hours.

Along with some very touching family background, and stories that warmed my heart, Jann shared some recent events with me. Namely, the Second Street Beautification that has been going on for the past few years. When the city told Rose that they were going to have to move or close, it wasn’t Rose and the family who talked with the city council, it was four generations of people who had shared birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, retirement parties, and dinners with the family. Because of their efforts, Bianco’s was able to stay open, and will stay open until the new location is ready to serve the Italian delicacies that Bianco’s has been serving for the past fifty-nine years. One of the more humorous stories had to do with the new location: the new restrooms. Rose was extremely excited about the new restrooms, to the point that when she would visit Chris and Jann in Tulsa, she would tour restaurants in the area so she could check out their restrooms.

As we were wrapping up our conversation, Jann told me that there had been a run on the dressing the first two days they were opened after Rose was laid to rest. She had heard that there was a rumor going around that Bianoc’s would be closing, now that Rose wasn’t here to run it. Well, let me put everyone at ease; Bianco’s is not closing. In fact, Jann said that as long as people are coming to eat, Bianco’s will be open to serve them. They’ll be here “until people don’t want the garlic dressing.”

Although Rose may be gone, she’ll still be with us. Through the charm, the food, the dressing, and the moments and memories shared with family and friends at Bianco’s Italian Restaurant.