Saturday, July 05, 2008

Died and gone to pizza heaven

That was the tagline for a local chain when I was a kid: Pizza Haven--it's pizza heaven! I remember it being perfectly acceptable family night out food, though in retrospect I wasn't exactly a connoiseur of quality pies; we equally enjoyed $3.99-for-a-large pizzas with deafening Wurlitzer organ accompaniment (that's the history, but click here for the oompah strains of the Chicken Dance), or pizzas served to us by a giant stuffed rodent in a bowler hat. (Aha--it seems Chuck E. has upgraded to a ball cap and baggy shirt with a more urban hip-hop flavor.)

(Seriously, though, go listen to that music sample. It's crashing along in the background as I type and is the sound of every birthday party I ever attended. It's making me a little verklempt.)

Anyway. The Seattle-based Pizza Haven chain buckled under severe pressure from the national pizza purveyors eventually; there seems to be one remaining location at Seattle Center, which is still pulling down excoriating reviews on, sadly. Sounds more like hell. But I've been sidetracked by this article about the founder, Ron Bean, from the Puget Sound Business Journal nearly seven years ago.

Back when Bean opened the first Pizza Haven in the U District in 1958, pizza was exotic, a suspect foreign dish few Americans had ever heard of, let alone tasted.

At the time, the only other pizza joints in the Puget Sound area were Shakey's Pizza and Pizza Pete. Pizza Haven was just open from 4 p.m. to midnight because Bean didn't think people would eat pizza for lunch.

But Bean, who started the restaurant to help pay his law school tuition, had faith its popularity would grow. Pizza was a favorite among his football buddies who grew up on it back home in Chicago.

Back then Pizza Haven charged $3 for a 16-inch pie with five toppings and Cokes were a dime. The chain offered a dozen kinds of pizza with a few creations - notably canned tuna and green olive - that were quietly scrapped.

Pizza Haven was among the first to make deliveries, Bean said. Restaurant employees used radio phones to relay orders to roving drivers who carried stacks of pizzas in warming ovens in the back of their jeeps and pickup trucks

Dude! I remember those trucks, the tall ovens with the pizzas slipped in there in racks. Picture it, these guys just driving around with ready-made pizzas in the truck bed, in case of a sudden pizza emergency. Like pizza ambulances. It's a far cry from some kid from Dominos with a vinyl pizza sleeve and a speeding ticket, no? Meanwhile--canned tuna and green olive? Yes, how did this exotic foodstuff ever catch on?

Anyway. The point of this whole entry is that, after a trip to the zoo this morning, my cousin and her family met me, Mom, and Sis at the Phinney Ridge Zeeks Pizza. Cuz has three kids, 8, 5, and 3; I'd suggested Zeeks because it's famously kid-friendly, but even I didn't anticipate how cheerfully welcoming they'd be to the younger set. While we waited for our meal, the waitress brought each kid a goodie bag--crayons, a picture to color, a Zeeks temporary tattoo--and a little ball of raw pizza dough to mash around on the table. When the pitcher of root beer arrived, she likewise handed out three plastic cups with lids, unprompted. I don't have kids of my own yet, but honestly I kind of felt like one again, there at the table with the whole fam-damily, sculpting slightly begrimed figures out of dough and sneezing from the hot peppers. Remember this, I told myself afterwards, remember what this is like. It had been too long.


Mrs. Mr. Sis said...

Yeah, try to forget though, that the bill was $102.00! Holy God...for PIZZA.

chicklegirl said...

I remember my mom driving me up one rainy night to a pizza place in Ballard for one of your birthday parties in sixth or seventh grade. I can't remember if it was Pizza Haven or Pizza and Pipes, but that sample brought it all back!

Kim said...

Oh, yes...I'm betting it was Pizza and Pipes, and I might still have photographic evidence. I'll have to do a little searching, and some scanning! (And I'm laughing at "one rainy night" because that pretty much sums up every Seattle birthday from yours through mine and into...May.)

chicklegirl said...

Too true.