There 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.
But 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!)