The long-vacant pizzeria at the corner of 50th and Washburn will be churning out pies and slices again soon. And cheesesteaks too.

After sitting vacant for more than six years, the space will house the seventh location of Tono Pizzeria + Cheesesteaks, a small but growing Twin Cities chain with outposts in Maple Grove, Coon Rapids, and St. Paul, among others. The opening date for the Fulton location isn’t set in stone but could come in “early spring,” said Tono co-owner Shaz Khan.

Khan is certainly excited about the prospect.

“It would be a mistake not to open a Tono here,” Khan said. Khan and co-owner Antonio Gambino are currently working through the City permitting process and renovating the space ahead of a planned spring opening. Despite limited sidewalk and parking lot space on the site, Khan “fully intends” to have an outdoor seating area, though City approvals are still pending.

A slice of Philly in Southwest Minneapolis

Tono’s menu features Philadelphia-themed cheesesteaks (“Sunny Side of Philadelphia,” “Fresh Prince”) and gourmet Philly-style pizzas that building co-owner and former Philadelphia resident Clay Taylor calls “everything that Pizzeria Lola’s [is], plus some.” It’s a labor of love for Tono’s “food guy” Gambino, whose Philly-native mom and Sicily-born dad run four Andrea Pizza locations in the Minneapolis skyways.


For details on what happened to the former Michelangelo’s Masterpizzas which operated for 25 years in the future Tono space, read our companion piece, “What happened to Michelangelo’s Masterpizzas?”

Tono opened its original Maplewood location in 2019. Its second outpost replaced a beloved neighborhood eatery, the St. Clair Broiler in St. Paul’s Mac-Groveland neighborhood, in late 2020, “at the height of COVID,” Khan said.

Since then, Tono has opened at least one new location each year. The chain plans to increase that pace this year, Khan said. Tono’s Maple Grove location, which Khan described as the chain’s most ambitious yet, opened in January. The Southwest Minneapolis location will be the year’s second. One or two more could yet open in 2024, though Khan wouldn’t share potential locations or opening dates.

Tono’s ambitions are evident in consistent branding and presentation at each location.

Like other successful chain restaurants, the idea is to foster “a certain recognition and aesthetic appeal [while] making people feel like home every time they walk into a Tono,” Khan said.

“More than a corporate storefront”

But even as the business grows, Khan said he wants Tono to  be a  “community restaurant” that goes above and beyond to engage with neighbors and local business leaders.

The Tono team learned the importance of community engagement h after opening the St. Paul location. When Tono employees covered up the Broiler building’s beloved outdoor mural of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, neighbors raised the alarm, Khan said. Due in part to COVID restrictions in place at the time, Tono representatives hadn’t notified neighbors that they’d be doing work on the building.

Soon enough, the curtain came down on a revamped mural  featuring Babe chowing on pizza, and all was forgiven, Khan said. Though he had planned this big reveal all along, the outcry taught Khan to be more upfront and thorough when communicating with neighbors.

Now, Tono goes above and beyond to be a good neighbor. Each location has signature menu items not available anywhere else. The Fulton menu isn’t set yet, but as its spring opening date approaches, Khan plans to ask neighbors what they’d like to see. He and the Tono team will more formally introduce themselves to community groups and nearby business owners too, he said.

The idea is to be more than a “corporate storefront,” said Khan. “We are very considerate about the communities we go into and embed ourselves as real partners to our neighbors,” he said.

Though details of its lease aren’t public, Tono appears to be settling in for the long haul. The company “made an enormous commitment that [our family] feels incredibly fortunate to have,” said Clay Taylor, the building’s co-owner.

Oh, and there’s one more thing Khan wants the future Tono patrons of Southwest Minneapolis to know about his restaurant. Unlike Michaelangelo’s Masterpizzas, the community-focused pizzeria that previously occupied the space before closing in 2017, Tono doesn’t make its own deliveries. If you want a Tono pizza or cheesesteak in the comfort of your home, you will find the Fulton location on DoorDash, Khan said.