Waco husband, wife mark 50 years for pizzeria, good causes

Friday, August 2, 2019

WACO, Texas (AP) — Justin Duty did not fall far from the pizzeria.

The Waco Tribune-Herald reports mom and dad, Mary and Roland Duty, are celebrating 50 years in business operating Poppa Rollo’s Pizza, a rambling joint on Valley Mills Drive replete with “Laurel and Hardy” and “Three Stooges” clips on the big screen, laughter, casual chatter and memories.

It became a classic venue for first dates, first jobs and supposedly Waco’s first bigscreen TV, where customers watched the Roger Staubachled Dallas Cowboys back in the day. Roland Duty was not above hoisting a bawling baby to his chest for a walk around the premises, giving relatives a break.

The personal touch became Poppa Rollo’s not-sosecret to success.

The pizza has helped, too. The place for years won the Waco Tribune-Herald Reader’s Poll under the category “Best Pizza Restaurant.”

Justin Duty, 36, is now an entrepreneur in his own right. He and brother Caleb Duty opened a second Poppa Rollo’s location on Hewitt Drive. They also operate 900 Degrees Pizzeria downtown, with a food truck at Magnolia Market at the Silos and a brick-and-mortar spot on University Parks Drive.

“What did mom and dad teach me? I guess ‘everything’ would not be a good answer,” Justin Duty said with a laugh. “I was just having lunch with a friend, a longtime customer, and we talked about the same thing. Above all, take care of your customer and serve a good product. Giving back to the community always pays dividends. I remember once, working with the American Heart Association, we offered a discounted pizza or maybe a straight free pizza for each pint of blood donated. Such promotions have been commonplace.”

Mary Duty, 68, said she started Thursday by visiting friends at Central National Bank, which has provided financial backing “with a hometown face.” She said she and Roland will use their 50th anniversary to spotlight worthy causes.

“Sunday nights will become Poppa Rollo’s pizza night at the Family Abuse Center. We’ll treat everybody,” Duty said. “This fall, we’ll be working with Heart of Texas Veterans One Stop, accentuating and publicizing what they do for veterans. Next spring, we will help promote the Shriners’ Love to the Rescue benefit for children with orthopedic problems. Roland has one of those funny hats. Also in the spring, we’ll work with (McLennan Community College) on a concert to support the Fritz Kriegel Scholarship Fund.”

Ernst Friederich “Fritz” Kriegel died in 2011 at the age of 44, having been employed at Poppa Rollo’s more than half his life.

Poppa Rollo’s hit the local dining scene in 1969, the year Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong took man’s first walk on the moon, a feat near to Roland Duty’s heart. Roland told the Tribune-Herald in a previous interview that as a youth in 1957, when the Russians launched the Sputnik satellite that circled the earth, he predicted people would visit the moon in the future.

A teacher bet Roland $500 he did not know what he was talking about.

“In July 1969, it happened,” Roland told the Tribune-Herald. “I was in the process of buying a restaurant (Pepe’s Pizza, which became Poppa Rollo’s) for $5,000, and an extra $500 would have come in handy.”

He did not press the wager, he said, as his teacher then was dying of cancer.

Perhaps as a nod to interplanetary travel, and Poppa Rollo’s potential place in it, Roland said in his advertising Rollo’s served “the best pizza on earth.”

Roland and Mary Duty both attended Baylor University, where she pursued a master’s degree in philosophy after working in Washington, D.C., for the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, now the Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, and in the office of longtime U.S. Rep. Les Aspin, who later served as Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton.

A car crash wrecked her finances, and her search for work ended at Poppa Rollo’s, where she became a waitress. It was there she met Roland.

“And the rest, as they say, is history,” she said with a laugh.

The Dutys have five children — Justin, Caleb, Susan, Faith and Hope — and Roland entered the marriage with two from a previous marriage, Ryan and Kevin. Mary Duty joked that the Dutys have their own voting bloc.

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