Martin Davis had big plans for Michelangelo’s Masterpizzas, a neighborhood favorite for 25 years, when he closed the 50th and Washburn restaurant for renovations in 2017. Construction delays and the death of building owner and Michelangelo’s founder Dave Stein halted those plans.

Stein left the Michelangelo’s building to his sister Lisa and brother-in-law Clay Taylor when he passed away from bile duct cancer at age 61 in 2021. The restaurant was still closed when he died. It’s now “essentially” owned by the Taylors’ grown children, Clay Taylor said. The building contained three business spaces– Michelangelo’s in the middle, an eBay resale shop that closed in 2007 and a banner print shop that closed in 2012. Davis’ remodel plans included expanding into the banner print shop space.

After years of dormancy in the building, which Taylor used for storage, neighbors noticed activity on the site in 2023. Taylor was making hefty structural renovations, including a new roof and fixing code compliance issues to prepare to lease out the building again. And now, seven years after Michelangelo’s closed, there’s a new pizza place coming to 50th and Washburn, Tono Pizzeria & Cheesesteaks which you can read about in this story's companion piece, "Tono Pizzeria & Cheesesteaks is coming to the long-empty Michelangelo’s space."

Michelangelo’s Masterpizzas

Michelangelo’s Masterpizzas was known as a classic neighborhood pizza joint. Neighbors remembered Stein as a kind man and online reviews commend the pizzas, artichoke dip and good service. The menu offered pastas, hoagies and salads in addition to the regular and deep dish pizzas, including the Horner’s Special, a nod to the name of the previous pizza restaurant in that space.

“Dave was a wonderful person and I wish his family the best in whatever they decide to do with his old properties,” former block club leader Janet Delvoye said.

Stein’s brother-in-law Taylor said that the restaurant was known for its wall of placemat artwork by customers.

“Some of it was top-line commercial graphic arts level-good done with Crayola crayons,” Taylor said. “Some worthy of Ms. Smith’s afternoon kindergarten.”

Davis delivered pizzas for Horner’s when Stein bought the restaurant in 1992 and created Michelangelo’s. The two became friends as they worked side-by-side, although Davis eventually quit to manage a downtown restaurant around 1995. Davis said that Stein asked him to buy Michelangelo’s from him in 2004 when Stein stepped back from the restaurant to open two chemical dependency treatment centers for teenagers, Maple Lake Recovery Center and Prairie House Recovery Center.

Davis, who grew up at 44th Street and Abbott Avenue South, and loved the neighborhood, had a young daughter at the time. He hoped that the restaurant would be a future job for her.

“I had my daughter, so I kind of wanted to have something for her when she got older, and then she had a place to work to bring her friends,” Davis said. “‘My dad owns a pizza shop,’ she’ll be the most popular girl on the block.”

Who owned Michelangelo’s?

Davis said he happily bought the restaurant and began operating it while Stein focused on his recovery centers. Taylor, a practicing lawyer with an office in Edina, put it differently. “[Dave] arranged to sell it to his longtime manager, but that did not work out.” Taylor stressed that he wasn’t involved in Michaelangelo’s operations and said Stein and Davis “didn’t talk to me” about the business. Southwest Voices couldn’t independently confirm who owned the business after 2007.

Davis’ daughter worked at Michelangelo’s when she was older, as did many other high schoolers. Davis said that the staff was one of the best parts of owning the restaurant, and that he has remained in contact with his former coworkers.

“The staff was great, a lot of kids. I feel like I was a bit of a mentor growing up and helping teach kids a work ethic,” Davis said. “Everybody was friendly.”

Davis ran into trouble when he was convicted of tax evasion from 2005-2007. According to the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal, Davis allegedly received sales taxes from customers but did not remit the money to the state. Hennepin County prosecutors charged him with several gross misdemeanors and felonies that carried potential prison time. Davis missed a court appearance, which resulted in a judge issuing a bench warrant for him to appear in court.

“I didn’t really know, because I was 32 and didn’t own a business,” Davis said. “Dave [Stein] didn’t really tell me that I would have to pay a sales tax.”

Davis said that he reached out to his tax professional after suspecting that he should pay a sales tax, but the man wasn’t responsive. He also said that the business was making so little money that he didn’t know how to pay the owed tax.

“I went to jail for a week because I missed a couple appointments,” Davis said. “Jail was one of the better experiences in my life.”

Davis was on probation from 2010 through 2015 and said that he would be caught up on his taxes in July of this year.

Davis started remodeling Michelangelo’s with Stein’s blessing around 2017. He did much of the work himself and as much as he could while the restaurant was still open. Eventually Davis closed the restaurant to tear down the wall separating Michelangelo’s from the corner unit in the building, he said.

(Clay Taylor confirmed that the restaurant closed for renovations, but had a slightly different recollection of what happened at the time. “David [Stein] made the decision to close the business [and] Marty [Davis] was running it when they closed. That’s all I know,” he said.)

Davis said he removed carpet, added sheetrock, updated the furnace and installed garage doors for the restaurant to open into the elements in the summer, which he said totaled around $100,000 of his and his ex-fiance’s money. Davis said that waiting for plumbing and electric, which he couldn’t do himself, and money problems delayed the remodel process. He started the renovations in 2017 and made slow progress for years.

“Money was just kind of disappearing in the sense of spending it and paying people to help, and I kinda started running out of money,” Davis said.

During the remodel, Davis said his lease with Stein ended. He hadn’t been paying rent during the renovations, which he said Stein approved since Stein owned the building while Davis owned the pizza business. Davis continued working on renovations after the lease ended.
Then Stein got sick in 2020.

Davis said he hadn’t deeply discussed or put on paper what would happen to the business and the building with Stein in the event that he passed away, and once Stein got sick, Davis felt uncomfortable asking him about a lease. He said that there had been plans for Davis to buy the building, but nothing was written down.

“I didn’t want it to be awkward like ‘hey before you die can you sign a lease for me or how do you want to work this out,’ which was probably really bad on my part,” Davis said. “Then he got sicker and sicker and then I just assumed he would leave me the rights to open up the restaurant.”

When Stein died in 2021, Davis said he left everything relating to Michelangelo’s Masterpizzas and the building at 50th and Washburn to his family. Davis said he collected his things from the restaurant and hasn’t been involved since.

Davis still works in the pizza world as a delivery driver for Carbone’s. He has a positive attitude about the loss of Michelangelo’s, though he regrets not having the business to pass on to his daughter.

“She loved it and wanted to run it one day,” he said of his daughter. “The very day I bought the place, I was thinking only of her and how much fun she could have doing what I’m doing. So that’s one of the biggest disappointments about the whole Michelangelo’s.”