July 31, 2006 - A sad day for Huntsville

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Jan 6, 2005
North Alabama
For any of you who ever spent any time in Huntsville, AL, I'm sure this will hurt your heart as much as it does mine. Rumor pans out: Terry's Pizza's gone Tuesday, August 01, 2006 By GINA HANNAH Times Business Writer [email protected] All three restaurants closed on Monday; memories remain Inside the Terry's Pizza on North Memorial Parkway Monday afternoon, posters on the walls listed daily specials, just as they had for years. A sign taped to the inside of the "out" door asked interested persons to apply for a job as a delivery driver. But a juke box sat in a dark corner, silent. The tables sat empty, and a sign on the front door read "Terry's Pizza is now closed. Thank you Huntsville for 48 great years." Rumors had swirled around town for days, but Monday it was official: All three Terry's Pizza restaurants were closed, effective immediately. Employees and customers alike will miss the Chicago-style pizza that has been part of Huntsville's landscape ever since the early days of the space race. Susan Butler, who had worked for Terry's Pizza since 1979, said they'll also miss the stories: -- The folks who ordered a pizza and had it delivered on dry ice -- to Germany. -- The couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, who wanted to sit in the same booth they sat in on their first date. -- The Huntsville man sitting at a bar in the Kwajalein Islands who overhead another fellow say, "Man, I would give $100 for a Terry's Pizza." "I remember this little boy ... he literally teethed on pizza crust," Butler said. He's grown now, he's got kids, he's an engineer. "These people's lives are intertwined with (the restaurants). It's a really big loss for Huntsville." Faced with a lost lease, the death of their father and increasing family demands, the children of Lou Pejza, Terry's owner, decided last week to shutter the restaurants. "We determined it was best for the family, especially our mom," said Carol McBroom, one of Pejza's five daughters. In a meeting Monday, the family told employees first before making the news public, said Donna Miller, another of Pejza's daughters. "We felt Dad would have liked that." Miller said closing the restaurants "is almost like going through another death." "I had nightmares last night and woke up feeling sick," she said. 'A public servant' Terry's was founded in 1959 by Pejza and his sister and brother-in-law, Theresa and Earl Alger. The family, originally from the Midwest, wanted to bring Chicago-style pizza to Huntsville. For Pejza, the restaurant was originally a moonlighting venture; in his day job, he repaired typewriters for IBM. The first store was on North Memorial Parkway. The Governors Drive restaurant opened in the 1960s and the South Memorial Parkway site in the early 1970s. The exact dates escaped Pejza's daughters, who tried to guess based on how old they were when they first washed dishes at one of the restaurants. At some point, all six of Pejza's children worked for the family business, and they were expected to work as hard as anyone else, Miller said. The pizza was a hit, bringing in diners from as far away as Mississippi, Tennessee and Birmingham. Last October, Pizza Today, an industry magazine, named Terry's No. 88 on its Hot 100 list of independent pizza parlors. For Pejza, running the restaurant was as much about service as it was about business. When a tornado hit south Huntsville in 1989, Pejza kept the restaurant open, even though the power was out. "He said 'we've got to stay open so these people will have something to eat,' " Butler said. "We worked in the dark rolling those pizzas by hand. The store was packed. We had flashlights hanging over the pizza boards so we could see. "It wasn't just a restaurant; it was a public servant." Last year, the landlord at the South Parkway site told Pejza the building was going up for sale and his lease would not be renewed. Pejza began looking for a place to move that store, but he died suddenly last December before finding a new location. After Pejza's death, the family began to consider what would become of the business. The Algers both died a few years ago. Pejza's wife, Doris, is disabled. None of their children has gone into the family business and most of them live out of town. "He was so education-oriented, we each ended up in our careers and it wasn't fitting for us," Miller said. "It's kind of sad, in a way." The family learned last week that the site on South Parkway was sold and is slated to become a health club, helping them come to a final decision, Miller said. Now, the staff that remains is busy breaking down equipment and contacting the beer distributor, the produce supplier and other vendors. McBroom said employees' first reaction when told about the restaurants closing amazed her. "They immediately started talking about a Terry's Pizza employees reunion," she said. "We've got a lot of devastated employees," said Butler, who was manager of all three restaurants after working her way up from dishwasher and janitor. She said after nearly 30 years with the restaurant, she's not sure what she's going to do. "It's a real shame, because it's a historic landmark in Huntsville and southern Tennessee," she said. "I don't know if I hurt more for us or for the customers I'll never get to see again."
We are always moving towards a brighter, better world, right? Afraid we've all lost nice old places. I still miss the Esquire Theater in Dallas where as a teen I saw some movies I still enjoy ("Monty Python & The Holy Grail"; "Young Frankenstein") replaced by something I can't even recall, just anonymous retail, a gas station . . . Thinking of Alabama, I'd miss Jack's Truck Stop in Cullman if I drove through and saw it gone. Was nearly always beat tired getting there on a southbound trip, and rarin' to go mornings on a northbound one out of Birmingham. Not so different from many others of the same ilk, but it always had something special for me.
""I remember this little boy ... he literally teethed on pizza crust," Butler said. He's grown now, he's got kids, he's an engineer." All 450 pounds of him!!!!!!!!
Wayne, I've been looking for good Chicago pizza around here. I would have gladly drove down there and make a day of it if I knew about it. Too late. [Frown] Sad to here of another top-notch ma & pa idea go out of business.
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