As Marv Wise tossed dough and took orders during Friday's lunch rush at Wise Guys Pizza in Davenport, there was no sign he just closed on the sale of his 21-year-old business.
Like the conductor of a band, Wise kept every movement in the kitchen on time — as one pie was handed to a waitress, another was tossed in the oven. He didn’t need to speak to keep the kitchen moving so smoothly. He worked quietly, unassumingly, and his staff followed.
Last week, Wise finalized the sale of Wise Guys Pizza to brothers Rob and Joe Roseman. The brothers, who own Leisure Lanes in Davenport and Rose Bowl in Muscatine, will operate the 53rd Street and LeClaire locations under the Wise Guys name, Rob Roseman Jr. said.
Wise said he plans to step down early next month. But until then, he continues to knead dough and greet customers he's known for years.
"I'll be making pizzas until the day I leave. That's a passion for me; I love it," Wise, 57, said. "Unfortunately my health is not going to allow me to stay in a high stress situation. But it'll always be Wise Guys Pizza. We don't want anything to change. It's really difficult for me, but I know it's what I need to do for my health and family."
Along with keeping the Wise Guys name, Rob Roseman Jr. assures customers they can expect the same menu items, from The Big Marv pizza to the Henny Penny Fried Chicken. He plans to keep the same staff, plus renovate and update the locations — at 2408 E. 53rd St., Davenport and 701 N. Cody Road, LeClaire. The brothers are considering expanding delivery service, he said.
"It was too good of an opportunity. They have such a great brand and great following," Roseman said. "We bought it to try and keep that going and try to replicate it and franchise it. We're hoping to open multiple locations across the Quad-Cities, Iowa City, Muscatine and elsewhere. From our bowling alley experience, Muscatine is in need for some Quad-City style pizza."
Wise got his first taste of Quad-City pizza 36 years ago, working for Harris Pizza founder Leonard Harris. Working as manager, he absorbed Harris' knowledge of running a restaurant at the age of 21. He didn't leave until 1993.
"I went to work for Roadway Express for a few years and I was pretty happy. But we went out on strike and they were starting to lay off and cut people back," he said. "I thought back to my background of being a manager at Harris for 13 years. And I just kind of had this knack that some day maybe I'd own my own pizza place. So I kind of pursued that."
With a business partner, Wise helped open Slugger's Pizza in Silvis. But after more than a year, he headed back to Davenport, where he opened Wise Guys on 53rd Street in 1996. Back then, it was the only occupied business on the north side of the street from Tremont Avenue to the other side of Interstate 74, he said.
The opening of the LeClaire location quickly followed in 1999, said Wise, who worked on franchising the business after that. In 2011, he sold his recipe to Rock Island native Greg Mohr, who opened Roots Handmade Pizza, bringing Quad-City style pizza to the Chicago market.
Wise said there are probably five different variations of local pizza, all of which like to take on the "Quad-City style" title. But he never minded the competition, he said, and still feels grateful for working for Harris Pizza, one of the Quad-Cities' first pizza spots.
And while the sale of his business has been challenging, Wise said he's found comfort in knowing the Roseman brothers plan to keep selling the Wise Guys' staple recipe.
"I've been blessed to have good employees," Wise said. "It's been hard work. With any small business, if you have multiple employees, you have to be hands-on. And being involved in the community is huge. We've done just about everything to be involved in the community."
Wise, who hasn't stopped working since he turned 16, plans to slow down, but not stop. He's leaving the pizza business, but hopes to find another venture as fun as tossing pizza dough and joking with the regulars.