Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Great 80s Pizza Wars

Linda and Stacy at Perry's Pizza Parlor - Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

I often wonder why the 1980s has left such an indomitable mark upon people of my generation, and, to this day, why it can still incite massive nostalgia when pieces of that decade resurface. Maybe you can attribute a little bit to Reaganomics, or the Cold War, or television, movies and advertising. Or maybe all of the above. Hell, I still remember atomic bomb drills (as if my small wooden school desk could block nuclear fallout), Quaddafi's live terrorist threats, and the explosion of the Challenger. Maybe cultural life in 1980s America was so vibrant for the simple fact that we were alive to live it during such a tumultuous period in the modern age. Don't worry be happy, right? Let's be honest though, the 1980s spawned a lot of bizarre trends. None more so than what I like to call The Great 80s Pizza Wars.

At first glance the term war may seem like a misnomer, but I can assure you it is not. American capitalism has never thrived more so than in the period between 1979 and about 1990. Industry was booming, consumer demand was high, and prices for goods were low. Parents were raking in the dough at work, and in turn their bratty-mouthed/feather-haired/stonewash jeans-wearing kids were raking in lots of dough at home...literally. We were all hopped up on drugs, overly sexed, hated school, watched too much of that damned MTV, spent all of our allowance at the malls, and ate out...a lot. Or, rather, this is how we were heavily portrayed in the media. And what did we eat? Pizza, of course.

Pizza was big business in the 80s, and pizza parlors would profit tremendously from the battle over adolescent market share. Many companies fought for a piece of the pie (pun definitely intended) of the American teenage market, and spent huge amounts of capital on advertising to this particular demographic. And we were willing captives in our own prison. If anything the advertising agencies got two major things right - we liked to hang out with our friends and eat food. Throw in some music and a bunch of the latest video games and you have us at: Hello, Welcome to ___. So what was so rad and bitchin' about 1980s pizza? Let me tell you friend.

In the decade prior to the one in which the internet sucked away all of our social skills there was something called "meaningful interaction." In order to meet up with friends you would first have to call them on a heavy plastic telephone that was attached to the wall by a long curly cord (that would somehow always reverse-curl itself; to your great annoyance). Not all at once mind you...individually! Getting to said meetup spot was always difficult. You could have your parents or older sibling drive you, but that was lame, or you could ride your BMX bike. I usually chose the bike because it was more passenger friendly for the ride home. Once you arrived you had a wide selection of booths available. You always chose the back booth with a good view of the door...but not the booth with the wide circular seat because that one was a little TOO intimate. Ordering was kind of a pain because there was always the annoying kid allergic to EVERYTHING, and you couldn't split the good toppings onto only half the pizza. You order and then wait. But, waiting was the absolute best part. With a fist-full of quarters you could either explore the uncharted levels of Donkey Kong 2 or play that new Thompson Twins single on the jukebox. And when the pizza arrived, well, it was like heaven on a 12 inch wobbly silver platter. You nab that first slice and grab the overly greasy parmesan cheese and red pepper shakers and go to town. Not too fast though. That thing is hot. You have to CUT that first slice into small pieces...then wait for the rest of the pizza to cool down. No problem have an entire pitcher of soda to kill, and good friends to share it with. "Wait, Tina made out with who?" you garble through a mouthful of steamy pepperoni.

And how many pizza parlors were there to choose from? Let's see. There was Shakey's, Pizza Inn, Pizza Hut, Mr. Gatti's, Mario's Flying Pizza, Sbarro's, Chuck E. Cheese, Showbiz Pizza Place, Godfather's, Golf N' Stuff, the mall food court, the bowling alley (although the dough tasted like Brunswick shoe leather), the skating rink, etc., etc. All the while Domino's pizza kept pushing delivery, delivery, delivery. Once their silly Noid began advertising the super fast 30 minute delivery in the late 1980s (killing several unfortunate drivers as a result) the traditional pizza parlor began to die.

Think about it...when was the last time you ate a pizza that hasn't come from some teenager's car, or a supermarket freezer first? I recall a rainy July 4th weekend while I was in college in the late 1990s, where a few of us friends gathered at a local Pizza Hut. There we sat. Drinking pitchers of beer. Playing Frogger. Eating pizza. And laughing. For hours. So, who really won the war?

Pizza Inn 1976 - Texas City, Texas (I grew up right down the road)

Who the hell wants to eat pizza with Billy Bob staring creepily over your shoulder? - Showbiz Pizza Place

Godfather's Pizza Logo

Great Shakey's Pizza Ad (circa 1981) - courtesy of

Mario's Flying Pizza - Bay Area, Texas

Mr. Gatti's Pizza Logo

Mr. Gatti's Commercial

Shakey's Pizza Commercial

Showbiz Pizza Commercial

Pizza Hut Commercial

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