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48. Shakey's Pizza Parlor

Classification: Specialty

Location: St. Louis Park, Minnesota

Before a time when home pizza delivery was deeply rooted into our culture, there was one place that stood above all others as the symbol of fine dining, European influence, and grandiosity: Shakey's. It's my earliest pizza memory; the whole family—or often multiple families—loading into a cavalcade of wood-grained station wagons and descending on US Highway 12's mecca of suburban family culture. With dark wooden bench-style picnic tables stretching what seemed to be the length of a football field, it was an unusual hybrid of a German beer hall and Florentine cafe; an intoxicating blend of sights, sounds, and smells, and the absolute antithesis of social distancing. Strangers mixed freely, sharing Parmesan cheese and elbow space as if every patron were extended family. When we kids weren't making new friends or pressing our noses against the kitchen glass watching the artisans (teenage stoners) tossing pie crusts in the air, we were plugging nickels into the old-fashioned player piano as it belted out American standards such as "Winchester Cathedral" and "California, Here I Come" in ragtime. Best of all, parental supervision was extremely relaxed. It was unparalleled adolescent grandness.

The quality of the pizza itself has been lost on me, so I did some research, and my discoveries unearthed a different sort of gold mine. First, the undated photo that accompanies this story is, of course, a youthful Lynda Carter, aka Wonder Woman. I don't know if she's a fan, but the very existence of this photo makes me happy. But wait...The Philippines? It so happens that Shakey's is now the dominant pizzeria in the Pacific Rim with over 500 locations. There's still a few in California and Mexico, but it's most now an Asian enterprise, which makes me a little sad. The franchise was founded in Sacramento in 1954 by Ed Plummer and Sherwood "Shakey" Johnson, who suffered from nerve damage after WW2, leaving him with a permanent tremble. Now I feel sorta bad.

I know it's a big sweep of emotions today, but that's the nature of nostalgia. Now and forever, I'm going to remember Shakey's as the closest thing we had to Disneyland, but with endless root beer. It was there that my love of pizza was born. Thank you, Ed Plummer. Thank you, Sherwood Johnson. Thank you, mom and dad. Thank you, Lynda Carter. Thank you, teenage stoners. (9 of 10 stars)

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