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On the Crust of History
Before Mazzio’s and Ken’s Pizza, Ken Selby opened his original restaurant, Pizza Parlor, in Tulsa in 1961.
Photo by ROSALIE SELBY
The ghosts of pizzas past haunt one writer’s taste buds.
By Preston Jones
Published March/April 2016
This pizza is a time machine. Never mind that, in an age of stuffed, detachable crusts and outlandish toppings, the relatively straightforward nature of this pizza—perfectly crisp, rounded edges with thin layers of sauce, cheese, and pepperoni—is a throwback to an age when pizza could just be itself.
Sold by the Tulsa-based Mazzio’s Italian Eatery, even the pie’s name is classical in its simplicity: Ken’s Pizza.
The tag line adorning that pie on Mazzio’s menus reads, “The pizza that takes you back to 1961.”
For me, the taste harkens to the mid-1980s and the thick of my childhood.
Describing the taste of it—the subtle kick of the spicy pizza sauce, the cheese browned just so around grease-slicked discs of pepperoni, and the faintest hint of a crunch when biting into the cracker-ish crust—is enough to make my stomach growl.
There were a handful of stores in my hometown of Broken Arrow. If I squint my mind’s eye, I can almost recreate the location at East 101st Street and South Elm Place. It’s an Arby’s now, but even then, Ken’s Pizza was fast becoming a rarity. As with most edible history in Oklahoma, change is a key ingredient.
Mazzio’s began life under another name—Pizza Parlor—and opened on Tulsa’s East Eleventh Street in 1961 by Ken Selby. That location, since renamed Mazzio’s, remains open today.
Selby, who passed away in 2012, told the Tulsa World in 2011 that he first became enamored with pizza during a trip to Chicago in 1956.
“I was used to chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes,” he told the World. “I really fell in love with pizza.”
That passion was evident when, four years after opening Pizza Parlor, Selby left teaching to devote himself to his growing company. He also adopted a more obvious moniker for his burgeoning empire: Ken’s Pizza.
According to the Tulsa World, by 1975, Selby’s franchise had more than one hundred locations in and around the state.
Three years later, Selby created a new restaurant with a name inspired by Frank Sinatra’s character Maggio in the film From Here to Eternity. Although Maggio’s was already taken, Selby noted the similarities between the letters g and z.
There are now more than 140 Mazzio’s restaurants in ten states. But in the years between my childhood and adulthood, the robust taste that I’d fallen for disappeared as Ken’s locations were shuttered.
Imagine my delight in 2011 when Mazzio’s reintroduced Ken’s Pizza to its menu. It proved so popular that it has remained there ever since.
“We had an outpouring of letters and messages asking us to keep Ken’s Pizza on the menu,” says Mazzio’s president and CEO Sheri Miksa.
Indeed, Mazzio’s and Ken’s Pizza recall an era when an entrepreneur could put his own spin on a beloved favorite. And for me, every bite of a piping hot Ken’s Pizza, one so fresh from the oven that the cheese is still sliding around a little as you sink your teeth into the crust, sauce, and toppings, catapults me straight back to childhood.
Call it time travel—with extra cheese.
Get There: Mazzio’s Italian Eatery, (918) 663-8880 or mazzios.com.