The man with the third-most wins as a starting quarterback in NFL history also knows what it means to eat "well-done" pizza.
Former Miami Dolphin Dan Marino partnered with Anthony Bruno on his second pizza restaurant in 2002. Now Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza has 33 sites in six states and Marino beams about how the chain continues to grow.
With the fourth Tampa Bay location staging its opening Wednesday at 1901 S Dale Mabry Highway, Marino came from his home in South Florida to pay a visit to South Tampa. He sat down with Tampa Bay Times staff writer Paul Driscoll to talk about Anthony's, the difference between football and restaurants, and some off-season NFL stories.
How did you become a partner in Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza?
Anthony and I have been friends for about 25 years and I'd go to his main restaurant. Anthony had this idea to do coal-fired pizza since he was a kid. He started one and then, we both together decided to do a second one, which was in my neighborhood in Westin. Then the next thing you know, it kind of turned into something that we could develop into a bigger and better thing. Now this is the 33rd store, 21st in Florida. We've got Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Long Island. To help grow something like this is really cool.
What similarities are there in being a business partner and the leader on the gridiron?
I'm not sure that there are any. (Laughs.) The one thing that I can speak to that is that this business is about relationships, but also performing at a high level. Getting people in, promoting it, but once you get here you have to have a great product and that's what's going to bring people back. It's the fact that you have good people and that you serve a good product, not the fact that I'm involved. It's about relationships and developing those relationships and I think that has a lot to do with football, too. How you handle people, work ethic; we have some very hard-working people here.
It also starts from the top down. You can't have a great business without great leadership.
Yes, that's true. I'm more or less hanging out eating pizza and wings. These guys are working a little harder at it than I am. (Chuckles.)
What makes Anthony's special?
Anthony calls it Italian soul food. It's a lot of recipes he had from when he was a kid. The pizza is excellent, it's well-done. It's cooked at 800 degrees. The wings are really different — it has caramelized onions and they're baked in the oven. It's a very specific menu, but it's done at a very high quality. And you can also get beer and wine, too.
What's more difficult: throwing a touchdown pass with a blitzing linebacker bearing down on you or finding success in the restaurant business?
For me, it's throwing a football with a linebacker coming at you. (Laughs.) For me personally. If you ask Anthony that question, I'm sure it's gonna be the other way around.
Thoughts about this off-season with Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow?
The NFL is a crazy thing. There's always a story with something. I'm happy for Peyton that he feels like he'll be able to come back and play. He deserves it; he's an incredible player. It's a shame he had to leave Indianapolis, but that's the way the business is and I think he'll be extremely successful in Denver. I've known him for a lot of years. He's a great worker and a good friend and I wish nothing but the best for him. With Tim Tebow, I think it's going to be interesting. It's interesting that he went to New York and I guess they feel that they'll be able to use him in a certain way. Hopefully they told him he'd be able to compete for a job. I don't know what's been said. I do think he has struggled throwing the football in the league, but I will say he's gotten better and better and better with more experience and from what I understand, he's been an incredibly hard worker. With those attributes, you can be successful in the league.
What's your favorite item on the menu?
I'm supposed to say Eggplant Marino (laughing) — it's great. I love the meatball pizza — meatball ricotta pizza. The salad, the wings are great. You can't go wrong. We have a new item — cauliflower pizza. You've gotta check it out. It's so different and it's really good.
How much influence did you have on the menu?
Anthony is the expert, I rely on the experts. If you were to ask me how to play quarterback, I could do that. (Smiles.) He's the guy who's developed this whole concept. If he asks me, I'll tell him if I do or don't like something, but it's mostly him. I'm more or less security and taste-test it. (Laughs.)
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.