Rose Totino was born in 1915, one of seven children of Italian immigrant parents. The family settled in Minneapolis. At age 16, Totino dropped out of school and began cleaning houses to help out with the family's household expenses. She had learned a dedicated work ethic from her father, who believed hard work was the only way to success.
Totino married and in 1951, she and her husband established Totino's Italian Kitchen in Northeast Minneapolis. They originally opened the restaurant intending to offer take-out pizza only. But customers wanted a place to sit and eat the pizza on site, so the Totinos added tables and chairs. A decade later the Totinos had the idea to offer frozen pizzas to go, so customers could bake the pizza at home. By the 1970s, the Totino frozen pizza was the top-selling frozen pizza in the United States, sold as Totino's Pizza. Rose Totino patented a dough product specifically designed for frozen pizza in 1979.
In 1981, Pillsbury offered to buy Totino's Pizza. Mrs. Totino, who had particularly good business sense, turned down an offer of $16 million and got Pillsbury to ultimately pay her $20 million. She also became Pillsbury's first-ever female vice president.
Totino became a philanthropist, giving millions to charity and to schools such as Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota. She was inducted into the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame and the Frozen Food Hall of Fame, and she also received numerous awards such as the National Food Brokers Award for Outstanding Service and the Outstanding Business Leadership award.
The Totinos' grandson, Steve Elwell, bought Totino's restaurant and owns it to this day.
Rose Totino died in 1994 at age 79.