Joseph Victor Corbi, 54, founded pizza kit business

May 22, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Joseph Victor Corbi, whose name and pizza kits have become synonymous with fund-raising efforts throughout the Baltimore area, died Thursday of cancer at his Lisbon, Howard County, residence. He was 54.

Mr. Corbi worked in the pizza business all his life and was founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Joe Corbi's Wholesale Pizza Inc. located on DeSoto Road in Southwest Baltimore.

Born and reared in Edmondson Village, Mr. Corbi began selling pizza crusts at 14 in his father's Dundalk bakery.

He and his cousin, Frank Corbi, worked as teen-agers at the Baltimore Pizza Crust Co. in West Baltimore that their fathers had established in 1958.

He graduated from Calvert Hall College in 1962 and attended the University of Maryland.

After serving in the Navy from 1963 to 1971 aboard the USS Hassayampa, a fleet tanker, he returned to Baltimore and the pizza business.

He worked for the family business as a plant manager until 1982, when he was stricken with multiple sclerosis.

He spent a year recuperating and began experimenting with different pizza sauces and the idea of creating a pizza kit.

In 1983, he founded Joe Corbi's Wholesale Pizza Inc. in Columbia.

Area schools bought his pizza crust kits for their cafeterias, and they proved so popular that school groups began purchasing them as a fund-raising tool.

"One school bought some, and another bought some, and it just got bigger and bigger," Mr. Corbi told The Sun in an interview last year.

Thousands of students have solicited orders for the kits, which sell for $14 or $15 and contain pizza shells, sauce and cheese. Funds raised have been used to purchase school equipment or items for school bands and athletic teams.

Since closing the Columbia facility in 1990 and relocating in Southwest Baltimore, the business deals exclusively in pizza kits. It employs 300 people, has annual revenues of about $25 million and distribution centers in South Carolina, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania, the Midwest and New England.

"The secret of a Joe Corbi pizza is years of research, hard work all combined with the finest ingredients. It is a fresh product," said Rocco J. Violi, president of the company, yesterday.

Violi described Mr. Corbi as a "remarkable and hard-working man."

Mr. Corbi remained active in the business until three weeks before his death, said a sister, Joan O. Bell of Ellicott City, vice president, corporate secretary and part owner of the business.

Mr. Corbi was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Sons of Italy.

His 1970 marriage to the former Evelynne Read ended in divorce.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9: 30 a.m. Monday at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church, St. Agnes Lane and Route 40, Catonsville.

He is survived by three sons, Alexander J. Corbi of Annapolis, Victor C. Corbi and Matthew V. Corbi, both of Ellicott City; and another sister, Frances A. Violi of Pittsburgh, Pa.

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