Happy Memories: Ken’s Pizza

Ken’s Pizza logoThere weren’t a lot of restaurants in Snellville, Georgia when I was a kid. The All-Star Drive-In and Huddle House had cheap eats covered, Dairy Queen was the only fast-food restaurant, and two locally-owned restaurants (an Italian place whose name escapes me, and “Country Manor”, a down-home cookin’ place) rounded out the culinary options. There wouldn’t be a McDonalds in Snellville until I was in grade school. The town was so hard up for new places to eat that the first week the Del Taco was open the restaurant had to have a hostess and waiting list!

There was one other restaurant on the outskirts of town: Ken’s Pizza. In my mind’s eye, I can remember the place like I was just there yesterday. There was nothing fancy about it – you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between Ken’s Pizza and a 1970s-era Pizza Hut. It had the same checkered tablecloths as Pizza Hut, the ones that Yassir Arafat would wear on his head later on. Beer and soft drinks were served in the same clear plastic pitchers that Pizza Hut used. The restaurant was full of dark wood, a jukebox, and – later on – those table-style video games. I fell in love with Tempest at Ken’s.

Ken’s Pizza mascotBut the thing I remember most about Ken’s is the pizza. Which was the point of this story, of course. I’m pretty sure that Ken’s was the first pizza I ever had. It was certainly the first pizza I remember. And to this day, I can still remember what it tasted like. Ken’s pizzas came on a thin crust… but not that tasteless, crackery thing that Pizza Hut sells. It was a yeasty dough with a hint of cornmeal in it, which made the crust paradoxically thin and strong at the same time. Then there was the sauce… so different than what’s on pizzas today. It was much thinner than the glop on most chain pizza today, and was also slightly more spicy that what you get from Dominos and Pizza Hut too. And Ken’s didn’t bother with all that “novelty pizza” crap that the chains sell these days. They didn’t have “Hawaiian pizza” or “Thai Chicken pizza” or “The Big New Yorker pizza”… or anything like that. They had a few selections, but most people just read the toppings list and picked a few of their favorites.

Sadly, Ken’s is gone now. The chain is still around, but it changed its name to Mazzio’s and contracted a lot (at least in the Atlanta area) since the 80s. There used to be Mazzio’s all over the metro Atlanta area; I just checked the company’s website and they only have two remaining locations in Georgia: one in Columbus and another in Winder.

But rather than be sad about it, the memory of Ken’s pizza actually amazes me. Humans tend to think of “memory” as a visual thing. When you think back to early birthdays, vacations, or your Dad taking you to see the Harlem Globetrotters, we tend to think of it in a visual sense, that is, remembering what we saw. But my memory of Ken’s Pizza is overwhelmingly based on taste. I can instantly recall it, and in fact, I do compare any new pizza place to Ken’s. And it’s just not the same.

(Note: Do you have ANY idea of how hard it was to find the logo and mascot from a pizza place that changed names over 25 years ago? Also, there are apparently six Ken’s Pizza restaurants still operating in Oklahoma, where the chain was born. Dude, if I’m ever within 400 miles of one, I’m TOTALLY going!)

29 Replies to “Happy Memories: Ken’s Pizza”

  1. You probably saw my boys and I there . I just got an email from Houston .My 32 yr old son found this story about Kens and sent it to me and brother.
    We started going because I had a cousin that owned a OKla Kens, then after we tasted it, we were hooked. The people that came were almost hippie. It was the only cool place in Snellville, Ga

  2. I worked there in the Snellville store in the early 80’s. Great pizza. Never forget it. What a blast. I was in high school, Brookwood. Last time I was there they had Mazzios in lawrensville.

  3. Ken’s was the best pizza!!! I have and always will compare every pizza place to it and nothing compares. I do eat Mazzios is Winder and it is my favorite compared to any pizza place now but still is not as great as Ken’s. I remember the cheese was so thick and yummy i would get choked on it as a kid!! The crust is still the same though! Miss Ken’s pizza my Dad took me after my softball games or on the weekend visits we had. Good memories!

  4. What a great article. My family lived in Loganville, but I have many happy memories of going to
    Ken’s Pizza with my Dad, and different friends. A pizza, a couple of pitchers of beer, great. I
    don’t live in Georgia anymore, but I googled Ken’s Pizza out of curiosity and found this. Thanks!

  5. I remember it well. My mom managed it from Kens to Mazzios so I spent a lot of weekend there playing the games and eating pizza!! Fun times.
    I learned to make the dough and pizzas when I was young.

    1. Which Ken’s? They were a chain, so all over the place. The one I’m talking about was in Snellville, GA. I *think* the building still exists (as the “Rice Box” restaurant), but the area has changed so much that it’s hard to tell.

  6. Oh, wow! Interesting.

    I was born in 1989 and only recall that as being China Wall, La Luna, Los Chiles Verdes, Dickey’s, Gogi Brothers, and now Rice Box.

    I had heard Lilburn-area residents recently talk about a Ken’s further down on 78 and was curious as to where that was.

    Very interesting, though. Love some Snellville nostalgia and the evolution of space.

  7. Well, if you’re interested, the blue\gray steel building (underneath the Golden Corral billboard) was a dance studio for a long time. My sister took ballet and tap there for years,

    And across the street from Ken’s\Rice Box was “Bloody Oaks”, a creepy old house that was turned into the city’s haunted house every year. I think the Jaycees ran it.

    The whole area across the street from Ken’s\Rice Box all the way back to Wisteria (at South Gwinnett High School) used to be horse and cow pastures. My family used to live on the other side of the pastures (behind where Elegant Furniture is today). I used to walk to school at W.C. Britt, ‘cos my house was the second stop (out of 12-14) on the school bus route. If I wanted to take the bus, I had to be at the mailbox at 6:45. If I walked to school, I didn’t have to leave until 7:10 or so.

  8. Kens pizza was awesome. There was one near stone mountain, down 78 off of east park place. Last I remember they turned it into a hardies. It had all those photos (extreme close ups) of them making the carvings on stone mountain. Just an FYI, there is still a mazzios in winder ga, that serves kens pizza with the original kens sauce option.

    1. Back in the mid to late 70’s, my Dad and I would go to Ken’s Pizza in Snellville often, ( we lived in Loganville) order beer and pizza and just talk and talk. I really cherish those memories.

  9. I got engaged to my first husband at Ken’s Pizza in Griffin Ga on May 15, 1976. It was “our” place! Ate there every weekend.

  10. A few questions regarding your first paragraph, Jim. As stated in my previous comment I’m fascinated by the evolution of space and am curious as to where some of these early Snellville restaurants were located.

    Where was the All Star Drive In? The original Del Taco? Was Provino’s the Italian Restaurant mentioned? Where was Country Manor? Are these buildings still in existence?

    I do remember the A&J Tasty Pig that was up on the hill before the fire.

  11. Taylor – sorry for the insanely long delay in getting back with you.. I’ve actually been busy with work and life and stuff, and haven’t had much time to work on the blog.

    The All Star Drive-In was between (and across the street from) the First Baptist Church and South Gwinnett High School. More specifically, it was between the cemetery and the intersection of Wisteria Dr and 78. There appears to be a Burger King there now, although it might have been where Holden Automotive is next door. There was originally a strip mall there that had several offices, including a printer on one end (where my uncle worked for a time) and an alterations shop on the other. I honestly can’t remember which side of the strip mall All Star was on.

    I *think* the Del Taco was where the Taco Bell is now, or possibly the Captain D’s. It’s hard to tell, since those places have changed hands so much over the years. The KFC has been there forever, and the McDonald’s was built when I was maybe 6 or 7. My grandma used to have to drive me to the McDonald’s in Lawrenceville when I was really young.

    Country Manor was (more or less) across 78 from the Tasty Pig. I’m pretty sure “Philip Motors” occupies the building now. Country Manor had that long “banquet room” that seems to jibe with Philip Motors on Google Maps.

    Provino’s was after my time. The whole “Snellville Plaza” shopping center has been redone. It used to be that the shopping center had two (maybe three) distinct buildings. Look at this map:

    https://www.google.com/maps/@33.8581151,-84.0184095,119m/data=!3m1!1e3

    The corner where the “Sri Thai Kitchen” is now was a dry cleaners. Next to that was a Chinese restaurant, which had originally been the Italian place I mentioned in my opening paragraph. Next door to that was, I think, a Christian bookstore. Next door to the bookstore was the “Sack-A-Lot” convenience store. Turning the corner, I *think* there was some kind of “frilly ladies clothes store” (sorry, but that’s how I remember it). Most of the building that’s now Sally Beauty and Play It Again Sports was the Snellville post office, until it moved to its current location. I can’t remember what the “American Deli” and Dominos was, but the Big Lots was originally a Big Star (oddly enough). The “Hot & Cold Buffet” next door was a drugstore (a Reed’s or a Rexall, maybe?). In the corner, the “Triple 7 Dance Company” was the Snellville Cinema, which I adored, scruffy as it was. The shops in the row that “points” towards 78 changed hands quite a few times. There was a used book store (“Gwen’s Books”) I went to all the time, a doughnut shop I went to way too often, a kid’s clothes “boutique” (where my sister adopted her first “real” Cabbage Patch dolls), and a men’s store near the end. There was a standalone Dairy Queen at the very end, almost right on 78, where the cut-through to the UPS Store is now. But they tore it down back in the early 80s to extend the shopping center. When I moved in 1984, the last store on the end was a Turtles (Records).

    There was another building that took up most of the space across from the Thai place and nail salon. If you turned off 78 into the center (where the Thai place is), there was a smaller building on the right that occupied a square roughly where the patch of grass and trees are to the Smoothie King. I’m pretty sure the parking spaces across from the Thai place were in front of the now-demolished building. I don’t remember much about what was in the building, except there was an AWESOME sandwich shop right about where the Smoothie King is. It was run by an elderly Ukrainian couple (TOTALLY exotic for early 80s Snellville!). Sadly, they retired and gave it to their kids, who almost immediately ran it into the ground.

    Lastly, that part of the shopping center where the Donut King is is new. And actually, I see that the Garland’s Cleaners just moved for their former location where the Thai place is to the new building. That’s kind of cool. Glad to see they’re still around.

  12. Actually, looking at the map a bit more closely, the All Star was probably dead center of the Burger King. It was just a few feet down from being directly across from Huddle House.

  13. Ken’s Pizza was located where Mellow Mushroom is today. The Rice Box was originally Cindy’s (a hamburger joint similar to Wendys). Cindy’s was built approx 1977. The ladies clothes store where Play It Again and Sally’s is was J-Lyns. The children’s shop in the same shopping center was Three Little Kittens. Before Turtle’s Records, there was Action Awards formerly know as M&M Sporting Goods.

  14. Oh wow! J-Lyns? Three Little Kittens? A total blast from the past! I’d forgotten all about M&M Sporting Goods – I went there a few times for Little League stuff!

    Thanks for your awesome post! 🙂

  15. You don’t, by any chance, remember what was in New London Plaza in the early 80s, do you? I remember the K-Mart, the Eckerd’s, an ice cream shop, a barber shop and another kid’s clothing shop.. but that’s about ALL I remember of that place.

    1. The barber shop was Robbie’s Barber Shop, wasn’t it? Pretty sure he’s still in business smoking cigarettes in his shop. He relocated to Oak Road behind City Hall a few years ago. China Chef is still in business. Has been since I can remember, even in the shopping center’s mostly-vacant days.

  16. Pretty sure the Italian restaurant was Athena’s and the 1 screen movie theatre was in the same complex. It became Gwen’s paperbacks after they put the theatre up on the hill near Sike’s School close to “Richway”.

    1. Athena’s! Nice! I’d forgotten the name!

      The theatre was in the corner of that shopping center, but Gwen’s was 1-2 stores over, in the side on the center that points towards 78. I *think* Gwen’s had already gone out of business *before* the Snellville Cinema shut down.

  17. Sounds so much like growing up in Buford GA in the 70s. A Huddle House, a McDonalds, a Ken’s Pizza and when the Cpt Ds opened they needed a hostess with a waiting list. LOL. Special days out meant going to Northlake Mall for Chikfila, Gainesville for Burger King, or Lawrenceville for Wendys.

  18. I have a friend who is trying to find out what was the first burger joint ever, not a chain, in Snellville. Any ideas? Thanks.

  19. I can remember when they built Kens Pizza. Everyone was excited. A couple of kids from South got jobs there but had to quit because they were under age and the place sold beer. If I remember correctly, at that time, it was just outside the city limits. Had to be to sale beer. One new night a drunk driver crashed into the building and the front of the car actually came into the building. I took my first date there. It was an awesome place.

  20. Wow. Just stumbled across this post while trying to figure out if Blood Oaks still existed. Trip down memory lane of Snellville in the late 70s and 80s!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.