Staff Report

Everyone in town will be celebrating this milestone birthday with Richards Pizza and the Richards Famous Italian Steak Sandwich. Richard Underwood, founder of Richards Pizza is turning 90. You never know, he just might be celebrating his 90th birthday with his favorite Italian food – Richards Pizza.

Underwood, a Hamilton resident, celebrated his 90th birthday this week. His wife, Peggy, had a birthday on July 10, and their daughter, Karen, will celebrate a birthday on July 24.

“There are three of us that all have birthday’s in July, so we normally get together and celebrate them all at one time. I think we’re going to do that Friday or Saturday night,” said Richard Underwood.

Underwood was born on July 18, 1929. He graduated from Colerain High School in 1947. Although he’s officially retired from running the business, he and his wife still stop into Richards Pizza for pizza on Sunday nights or for an Italian Steak Sandwich during the week. He also remains active in real estate, and he and his wife spend time traveling to places like Europe, China, and Alaska.

“Well, the only thing, thinking about 90, is it sounds older than what I feel,” Underwood said, describing himself as an “adventurous” type.

Now, he enjoys spending time the Bahamas and Colorado, staying in one place longer, rather than traveling through. Underwood said he is always looking for something new and exciting.

“My philosophy is you need to have a purpose in life. You need to be working toward something, no matter if it’s work, or whatever. When you start dwelling on the past, then psychologically, I think your body thinks about shutting down, because you’re not positive. Being positive, and looking toward the future actually affects your body…So, I always like to think about the future, what I’m going to do, and work toward something,” he said.

Of course, his business has achieved success. Now, there are five locations. In 1955, Richards Pizza opened on Dixie Highway. A year later, in 1956, the Hamilton West Side location opened at the corner of Main and “D” Streets. It was that same year that the world-famous Italian Steak Sandwich was introduced. Today, Underwood’s daughters, Karen Underwood Kramer, and Gayl Underwood share the day-to-day responsibilities and continue the family tradition of running the business.

“I come from an entrepreneurial family background. My father was in business for himself. He was in a radio and appliances business. Both of my grandfathers were from Eastern Kentucky, and they were into sawmills, supply businesses and things like that. I grew up in an atmosphere of family talking about their businesses,” Underwood said.

He continued, “I started earning my own money in grade school with different projects, so it was natural for me to be looking for business opportunities, and it was at a time that pizza was just really first starting in the Cincinnati area. I was driving from Hamilton to Cincinnati to buy pizza. It thought it was something I would like to do, so I got into the pizza business.”

Richard Underwood (center), Karen Underwood Kramer (left), Gayl Underwood (right) – Celebrating Dick Underwood’s 90th birthday at The Hamilton Rotary Club.

In the beginning, there was only one pizza place in downtown Hamilton that opened about six months prior to Richard’s Pizza. They only lasted a couple of years and then they closed up.

“My business is the oldest existing pizza business in Hamilton,” Underwood said.

In 1970, the current Hamilton West Side location at 417 Main Street (Richards Pizza’s flagship restaurant) opened. Today, the original family recipes are still made in the commissary at this location.  In recent years, Richards Pizza has expanded to include locations on Route 4 (Dixie Highway), Main Street, Trenton, Monroe, and Fairfield.

When it comes to the most popular items on the menu, the Richards Famous Italian Steak Sandwich has had a legendary history since it was first created by Underwood in 1956.  As with everything Richards Pizza serves, the recipes and methods developed by Underwood and his wife, Peggy are followed faithfully, which is the most important goal in carrying on the nearly 65-year tradition of Richards Pizza.

“We try to keep things as natural as possible, such as with our sauces, which we make fresh, and the doughs, and the way we proof it, and things like that. We’ve never been followers. We’ve always been leaders. We’ve were the first one to have conveyorized convection ovens,” Underwood said.

Like many of Richards favorites, the Famous Italian Steak Sandwich has Richards signature sauce. It is still the same recipe Underwood created, and it’s made in the Richards commissary (at Richards on Main Street). The restaurant also uses the exact bread they have used since 1956 when the sandwich was introduced – with the same brand of pickles, onions, mozzarella, and provolone cheeses. It can be ordered with or without cheese. (Most people order cheese.) Originally, Richards also made the steak patties in their commissary. With the expansion to more locations, and state regulations, Richards moved to an outside company to make the meat patties in 2000, but the custom-made patties still incorporate the original recipe.

When Underwood orders a sandwich for himself, he likes all the ingredients that come on it with the cheese. His two favorite menu items are the pizza and the Italian Steak Sandwich. As far as pizza, he likes the Special Deluxe Pizza with no mushrooms.

“We want to do things right. We’ve always concentrated on quality and service,” Underwood said, “We provide a quality product that I would be proud to eat or have my friends eat. In fact, my wife and I still have pizza every Sunday night. During the week we might stop in for a sandwich, or some of the other items. Even after 60 years, we still like our product.”

Richards Pizza continues to take the time and care to deliver the best product possible. Starting with fresh, natural ingredients to the food preparation and everything involved in creating a delicious tasting product. Pizza and the Italian Steak Sandwiches are among the top menu items. Richards Pizza also features pastas, salads and more. Spaghetti and Chicken Alfredo are also popular dishes.

 “When customers come in, they want a good tasting pizza, and that’s what we try to give them, but behind the scenes, it takes a lot of work,” Underwood said.

Underwood said when Richards Pizza started out, the hamburger was the big thing. Now, pizza is equal to hamburgers and other popular foods.

“It makes me feel good that I’m providing a service that people appreciate. We provide a good atmosphere for our employees. We have a lot of long-time employees that have worked for us for 30-35 years, and we’re proud of that. It’s been a very satisfying life.”