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The story behind this Citrus Heights pizzeria, and its ties to a famous Hollywood club

Owner Rob Marvin stands inside Ciro’s Pizza Cafe on Old Auburn Road, with a Ciro’s logo behind him. // M. Hazlip

By Mike Hazlip—
Ciro’s Pizza Cafe on Old Auburn Road has been a fixture in Citrus Heights for decades, but its distinctive logo dates back to the 1950s with a famous nightclub in Hollywood once frequented by celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, and others.

Ciro’s owner Rob Marvin told The Sentinel in an interview last month that he co-founded the restaurant at 7521 Old Auburn Rd. with his brother, Jim, in 1989. His introduction to the restaurant business began before that, however.

How it all began
When he was 14 years old, Marvin said the pizzeria where his brother worked in the Bay Area needed a dishwasher, and he showed up for the job.

“I came down during summer break and I just fell in love with it,” Marvin said. “And so I decided right then and there that I wanted to do pizza, make pizzas for a living. I realized I had sauce in my veins, so to speak.”

Pizzerias are a place where people come to celebrate special occasions and have a good time, Marvin says, something that inspired him to create an environment where people can do just that.

Marvin and his brother saved their money as teenagers working odd jobs living in the Bay Area. He says he stayed after hours to learn the pizza business on the promise he wouldn’t start a competing restaurant.

The duo used envelopes to save $1,000 at a time until they accumulated 100 envelopes on the wall, Marvin said.

Wanting to honor his promise to the restaurant owners, Marvin started looking for a location outside the Bay Area when he discovered a Sacramento-based pizza restaurant chain named Rico’s. The business had about 100 locations, but was going downhill, he said, with the owner looking to retire.

In an effort to move away from the Rico’s franchise, Marvin said the original owner changed the name of the first location to Ciro’s after his mother’s name. Soon after, Marvin approached him to buy the business and at just 19 he became co-owner of Ciro’s pizza.

“Obviously, being young, not having a lot of money, it couldn’t have been a big place,” Marvin said. “We didn’t have a lot of capital. We didn’t borrow any money, we bought the business and then we changed the recipes, and it grew.”

After taking over the business, the Marvin brothers not only changed the recipes, but also the business philosophy. They then acquired the Ciro’s name and logo rights from a famous nightclub that operated on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood from 1940 to 1957, known for being a popular spot for celebrities.

“We just basically found out about the original Ciro’s down in Hollywood and kind of adapted it for our place,” Marvin said. “And so we own the logo now because it was abandoned with Ciro’s name.”

Marvin has dedicated an entire wall to photographs of famous stars seen at the Hollywood nightclub, with the Ciro’s logo back-lit with neon on another wall.

Starting with just two employees, the business grew quickly through the 1990s, he said. With both brothers just in their 20s, Marvin said many of their employees were in the same age bracket as the business owners.

“So what made it work was being a hands-on owner, being in the kitchen, serving the customers,” Marvin said. “ We were working with a lot of people that were our age, so it was… a fun atmosphere.”

The Citrus Heights incorporation project was in full swing by the latter part of the 1990s, and Marvin said he supported the effort.

“Obviously being unincorporated, an unincorporated part of Sacramento County, it was kind of like the outskirts,” Marvin said. “There was a sheriff as opposed to a city police, and so the level of service wasn’t obviously as good as it is now.”

Although their location at Sylvan Corners was once considered the outskirts of the county, the location is now the geographic center of the city of Citrus Heights, something Marvin says has helped the business thrive.

“We’ve seen it in 30 years, we’ve seen that corner, they have completely changed that corner and it’s more vibrant now. And I really think that’s really helped with our success,” said Marvin. “Because we’ve got this little pizzeria, this little hole in the wall, it’s not a very big place, but the volume that it does is amazing, and it’s because of the infrastructure there.”

Through the years
Now, more than three decades after taking over the business, Marvin says some of their employees are the children of former employees.

“There’s a lot of people who, you know, 30 years ago worked for us and now they’re parents and have got children of their own that are working for us and that’s been very rewarding,” Marvin said. “I mean, it’s just great. We’ve got several where the parents met at Ciro’s, it was their first job and then they got married, had a child, and now their child works for us as a young adult.”

Owner Rob Marvin stands outside his self-described “hole in the wall” pizza cafe on Old Auburn Road. // M. Hazlip

In the decades since the Marvin brothers have owned the business, they have only opened one additional location. Their Folsom restaurant opened in August of 1991. Marvin said the previous owner cautioned them against opening too many locations.

“The original founder of Rico’s, in the early nineties when he saw that we were doing the volume that we were doing at the original Ciro’s, the original Rico’s, in Citrus Heights, he came to us and he said, Don’t make the same mistake I did. We opened up over 100 Rico’s and lost control,’ and he said, ‘Keep it small, you enjoy what you do, the money will come later’,” Marvin said.

That advice has served them well, with the business recently celebrating their 33rd anniversary in November 2022. Keeping Ciro’s to just two locations also helps Marvin maintain the quality, a key ingredient that he says helps make the restaurant popular with locals.

“We do our best to make a good a good pie, so it’s high quality,” he said. “And then, of course, the residents of Citrus Heights appreciate that it’s a small business, and we’re present.”

Today, Ciro’s pizza continues to serve customers at the original Citrus Heights location as well as one at 1300 East Bidwell St. in Folsom. Marvin says he intends to keep the business small, heeding the advice he received from the original Rico’s owner.

“You know, there’s two of us, myself and my brother, but we don’t want to grow much bigger than that,” Marvin said. “And so we’ve been doing it for now, 33 years doing it, and we’re working owners. But we enjoy it, we really do.”

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