Pass KeyA Pueblo Tradition
Playing softball at Stauter Field, fishing at Runyon Lake, “one on one” at the “slab,” going to the “Bell Game and eating a Pass Key Special are all Pueblo Traditions. These activities are some of the things that Puebloans have made traditional over the years and in turn have made the city one of the most enjoyable communities to live in the entire U.S.A.
A “Pass Key Special” is a homemade Italian sausage sandwich that… “to many Puebloans, the mention of the (name) creates a craving that simply must be satisfied”. For many years it has been our privilege to be voted Pueblo’s “Best Italian Sausage Sandwich” by the readers of the Pueblo Chieftain.
Having a Pass Key for lunch, after the game, or just going out for a bite to eat, has become so natural for Puebloans that it is one of the things they miss most when they move or leave the city for any extended period of time.
In 1952, John and Frank purchased the Pass Key Drive-In from their Uncle Sam and Aunt Theresa Pagano. “Having very little knowledge of the drive-in business, we were now businessmen learning from the ground up — the hard way,” according to John. “We had to do the ‘car-hopping,’ waiting on tables, the clean up and cooking all by ourselves with a lot of help from our mother, Helen Pagano. But business began to grow and more help was needed,” says John.
The boys hired their first employee, a “carhop,” and started the first generation of people who have worked at Pass Key’s. Some of the employees who have worked at the restaurant have children that followed in their footsteps by becoming cooks or waitresses.
The story of Pass Key’s is a family affair. John and Frank’s families were responsible for the hard work it took Pass Key’s to become successful. Along with the assistance given to them by their parents, the owners’ wives, and their children also became involved with the business. All of the children of both families started by peeling potatoes, waiting on tables and washing dishes.
The original restaurant was on the 600 block of East Abriendo Ave. where the freeway meets Abriendo. It started as a drive-in restaurant with “car hops” who took and carried orders back and forth to automobiles in the parking lot. The lot held approximately fifteen cars comfortably. Seating was available inside for only a few customers.
Then, in 1969, the new restaurant opened at 518 E. Abriendo Ave., a block north of the original restaurant. The new one was designed by the owners with a larger indoor seating area, and the “car-hop” service was eliminated. The menu was expanded in hopes that business would not drop. Business didn’t drop; in fact, it increased and customers had no complaints about the “new” concept.
Expansion continued, and in June of 1989, John, Mary Jo and their children Bob, Kathy, Julie and Jonna opened another Pass Key Restaurant on Highway 50 West. With more room, the new restaurant now provides more seating space, parking space and enough room for a salad bar and homemade delicious authentic Italian dishes just like Grandma Lil used to make. Again the menu has been expanded slightly, but the Pass Key Specials are the main food items.
In 1996 Bob and his wife Karen created “Pass Key On The Go”. You can find Pass Key On The Go” at most Pueblo outside community events. When visiting the Colorado State Fair, be sure and stop by “Pass Key On The Go” and say hello and enjoy a Pass Key Special.
Families visiting their relatives will stop at the restaurant first and then call their family – “We just got into town. We’re at Pass Key’s eating, we’ll be by in a while.”
And now the “KEY” has opened another door for us. In October 2016 John and Mary Jo’s family will be celebrating the opening of our lastest restaurant, Pass Key on Northern Ave. Julie and her son Luke are in charge of operations. We are proud to be serving Pueblo Green Chile strips, ask us about taking home our fresh Italian Sausage by the pound. We welcome you to our newest restaurant old friends, new friends and hope this will be the foundation of many happy memories. THANK YOU for voting us Pueblo’s Best Sandwich. It has been our pleasure to serve you.
When we count our blessings, your patronage tops the list.
John and Mary Jo’s family
All 17 of us