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The Ghosts of Pizza Inn

There was a time not so many years ago when my work friends and I used to go lunch together almost every single day. Increased job duties, the introduction of teleworking, and conflicting meeting schedules have mostly put an end to those frequent outings. These days, getting three or four of us together for lunch involves blocking out time on calendars, coordinating schedules, and a lot of finger-crossing. I really miss those days when we could all just hop in a car and go somewhere for lunch.

One of our frequent lunch destinations was the Pizza Inn on the corner of SW 59th and May, about five miles away from our office. The food on the buffet was fresh and the price was right, but there was another reason I liked going to that particular Pizza Inn — because I used to work there. Although everyone I knew who had worked there was long gone, there were still plenty of memories to be had in that place. For example, inside the restaurant, a green stripe had been painted on the walls that went around the entire restaurant. I had helped paint that stripe, fifteen years prior.

Whenever I tell people I worked at Pizza Inn I always add “at four different locations.” I first started at the one off of SW 59th and May and was moved to three different stores before finally returning there. In the 2000s many of the old Pizza Inn restaurants closed their doors, and I was sad to see the one on SW 59th and May finally close in 2015. Yesterday, with help from Google Maps, I decided to look up all the Pizza Inn locations I worked at and see what they looked like today.

Location 1: Pizza Inn
SW 59th and May, Oklahoma City

The manager of this location (Glenn) had previously been my manager at Grandy’s; when he left the world of fried chicken for pizza, he offered me $5/hour to move with him. The years have started to run together, but I believe this was in the spring or summer of 1991. My mind tells me I worked there for years, In my memories it feels like I worked there for years, but I quit Grandy’s in the spring of 1991, and had worked for both Pizza Inn and Pizza Hut by the time I starting working for Oklahoma Graphics in the summer of 1993. It doesn’t seem possible that I made so many memories in such a short time frame.

Shortly after I started at this store I moved into a nearby apartment. I spent a lot of my time hanging out, playing pinball, talking on the telephone, and eating at Pizza Inn. Truth be told, if I hadn’t been working at a restaurant during that time, I probably would have starved.

See those parking spots on the right hand side of the building? That’s where my Ford Festiva was parked when someone broke in and stole all my stereo equipment and sixty cassette tapes. After losing all of my favorite cassettes, I began buying CDs. Here’s a copy of the police report from March, 1992. It’s cute that I thought I would get any of those things back.

In the evenings I had to prepare the “pizzerts,” or dessert pizzas for the next day. These consisted of pizza crusts covered in cake batter and one of three toppings: apples or cherries from a bucket of pie filling, or chocolate chips. I used to keep a spoon in the walk-in freezer at all times so that every time I walked past it I could swing in and eat a scoop of cake batter straight out of the five-gallon bucket. Apparently I was the only person shocked about how much weight I put on while working there.

This particular Pizza Inn was a family business. The manager, his wife, and both of their daughters (one of whom I was dating at the time) all worked there. And if there was a life lesson to be learned in all of this, it would be that breaking up with your manager’s daughter can make for a terribly awkward experience for everyone involved. You would be amazed how quiet a busy restaurant kitchen can get. That aside, Glenn certainly gave me an opportunity that no one else had at that point. Sometimes I wish I had handled things differently back then, and it’s easy for me to forget that I was only 18 years old.

By using the Google Maps timeline, I was able to go back to 2015 and find a picture of this Pizza Inn restaurant while it was still open.

Location 2: Pizza Inn
NW 23rd and Council, Oklahoma City

As part of my “shift manager” training, my boss suggested I spend time at some of the other local stores to get a feel for how they operated. Some did more delivery business and some had busier buffets, so seeing how each of them worked was a good way to get some well-rounded training. Or maybe he was just shuffling me around after I broke up with his daughter.

Of the four locations I worked at, I spent the least amount of time at this one. My biggest memory from this particular location was of an employee named Ash. By 1991/1992 I had pretty much boxed up my Commodore 64 and moved on to IBM computers. Ash was a few years older than I was and had moved to the US from another country (sadly, I don’t remember where). Wherever he had come from, 8-bit computers were still prevalent, and he was still programming on his C64. I wish I could reconnect with him today and find out if he still has his Commodore computer!

The only other thing I remember about this location was driving there. My apartment off of SW 59th and Agnew was only half a file from the Pizza Inn I started working at, and was about 8 miles away from this one. The shortest distance between the two locations was eight miles through city streets that took me though some questionable neighborhoods late at night.

After this location closed it turned into a Mexican restaurant named Mi Pueblo for a couple of years before finally becoming a liquor store. Again using Google Maps, I was able to scroll back to 2007 and find a picture of the building when it was still a Pizza Inn.

Location 3: Pizza Inn
NW 23rd and Villa, Oklahoma City

The Pizza Inn located at NW 23rd and Villa was the scariest location I worked at. In 1989, two years before I worked there, three guys robbed the store and all the customers inside. That same year, someone pried open the side door and stole $175 in change. The whole time I worked at this location there was a large bullet hole in the front window, a reminder of the surrounding neighborhood. Also, gangs routinely wrote graffiti and tagged the bathroom stalls. As annoying as it was, I always secretly found it humorous that the bathroom of a local pizza chain would be territory worth claiming.

Shift managers do a little bit of everything, and late one evening while short-staffed I found myself delivering a pizza. When I arrived at the house I was met at the front porch by a couple of shirtless guys who took the pizza from me and then insisted I come inside to get paid. With the hair on the back of my neck at full attention, I left without the pizza or the money. Occasionally I drive past that location and wonder what could have happened had I gone inside that house.

I can’t remember any of my co-workers from this location. Because most of these restaurants looked similar inside, sometimes the memories run together. I may not have worked at this location for very long. I just can’t remember.

I couldn’t find the exact date, but sometime in the 2000’s (long after I had moved on) the restaurant burned to the ground. As you can see, they built a car wash in its place.

Location 4: Pizza Inn
NW 48th and MacArthur, Warr Acres

The majority of my time at Pizza Inn was split between SW 59th and May and this location. The manager’s name was Dada (“daw-daw”), and I believe he was from the Congo. Two people I remember fondly from this location were Geoff, a big fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Amy, a free-spirited girl who was the coolest person I had ever met. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers played Saturday Night Live (February 22, 1992), the three of us went out in the dining room and watched the entire performance on the television out there.

One story I remember from that location was that a few months before I started working there, someone had left a bomb inside the restaurant. For some reason there were always weirdos visiting that location. One evening a guy came in and told us all that he regularly talked to the devil. Things got really weird when he began confessing to burning down several local apartment buildings. We eventually called 911 and the police came and took him away.

Other customers were more interesting. On the first Friday of every month, a local chess club would take over the entire dining room. I even got to play a couple of quick games of chess from time to time and always got beat quickly. On the third Friday of every month, a local group of magicians met at the restaurant. They constantly performed small tricks, keeping themselves, other customers, and the rest of us entertained.

One of my favorite stories from this location involves my friend Jeff. I wasn’t supposed to have friends in the store after hours, but I would always let Jeff come in and hang out while I was closing up. Late one night, I was just about to leave when Dada pulled up. I told Jeff to hide in the kitchen, and he did. When Dada entered the kitchen, Jeff moved back into the storage room. When Dada entered the storage room, Jeff moved back into the office, and there was nowhere to go from there. I tried to distract Dada, but it didn’t work. When he finally entered the office and turned on the light, Jeff jumped out and goes, “Hi!” Dada almost had a heart attack, and the next day I got a lecture about not having people inside the store after hours.

I don’t know when this location closed. Today it’s a Luigi’s Pizza. I’ve tried Luigi’s Pizza twice and neither time was great.

Although all the Pizza Inn locations I worked at have closed, the franchise is still around. In 2015, around the time the one on SW 59th and May closed, a new one opened right around I-40 and Rockwell, not too far from our home. We’ve gone there a couple of times. Every time we go it seems more expensive than it should be, and while nothing inside is particularly memorable, sometimes it’s nice just to go back and visit an old friend, even when both of you have changed.

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2 comments to The Ghosts of Pizza Inn

  • Jason Castleman

    I once committed grand larceny at a Pizza Inn as a kid. We went there to eat, on the way home my Mom heard me crunching on something, turned around to see I still had my glass full of ice. I done stole a Pizza Inn glass! We all laughed!! TRUE STORY!!!

  • Paul in AZ

    Another great piece, Rob. These are the types of stories that help folks get to know you better and get a glimpse as to where you’re coming from. Al though I never worked at one, stories of pizza parlors and fast food joints have a special place in my heart.

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