Chris Hilke made a Truman pizza late Thursday morning at The Pizza Company at 1508 E. McCarty St., waiting for Monday to come.
The pizza, for the father of the business' other new owner, served as a yummy practice pie before the restaurant was set to open a few days later. First, Hilke laid a ladle of velvety red sauce inside the thin crust, then added a thin layer of pepperoni, a dusting of cheddar and a dollop of mozzarella before bits of bacon topped off the pie like sprinkles on a birthday cake.
As Hilke made the pizza, he turned away a group of seven people who showed up wanting the restaurant's lunch buffet. In all, he turned away five orders in 30 minutes Thursday afternoon, three groups in person, and two orders over the phone.
"We're not open just yet; we're opening Monday," Hilke told them all.
J.C. Pizza Co. closed in June when its business license was not renewed by the previous owner. Hilke and Jason VanLoo, who sold the restaurant in 2009, bought it from Jeff Caldwell in September. Since then, they have renamed the business The Pizza Company and invested about $50,000 into changes large and small.
The Pizza Company will open Monday. Its hours will be 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
VanLoo owned the restaurant from 2007-09 when it was named Pizza Haus. Since then, it also changed hands when Caldwell bought the restaurant. His father, Don, said VanLoo simply got worn out working long days at the restaurant.
Though the restaurant has changed hands and names several times, it still serves the same pizza.
Hilke said the pair were in discussions to buy the restaurant before it closed in June. When the chance to buy it came later, they jumped at it.
VanLoo, who works as a surgical consultant, asked Hilke to run the restaurant. Hilke left his job in the soda industry just two weeks ago to manage The Pizza Company.
Over the past several weeks, they've trained new staff members. The Pizza Company retained two staff members who worked there previously, but the rest of the crew will be new. The training attracted lots of attention from customers eager to eat at the joint again.
"Every night we've been in here cleaning, people have been coming," Hilke said. "This phone keeps ringing."
VanLoo and Hilke spent about six weeks cleaning the restaurant and making additions large and small. Some changes will be obvious. The bathroom, which had been next to the kitchen, moved across the dining room to the area where the main soda station sat; and the soda station moved to a wall built where the old bathroom used to be. Others, like adding three beer taps and new Coca-Cola signage, will be more subtle.
Hilke and VanLoo also bought new TVs for the dining room. This spring, he said, they want to build a new covered deck for people to use in the summer when it's raining.
The pair wants to update a few things each year to keep the look of the restaurant up to date. Soon, Hilke wants to replace the carpet in the dining room and two dated tile floors in the kitchen.
"We're going to continue to invest so people will want to come here," Hilke said.
They also ordered a new sign with the new name that will be installed soon in front of the restaurant.
Previous attempts to reach Caldwell were unsuccessful. Hilke did not want to speculate about why the restaurant closed. He did say though, business was not the issue. He also said the investment will bolster the east side of town.
"This building really needed a face lift," Hilke said. "This is a great location."
More than anything, Hilke said, they want The Pizza Company to offer good customer service. The business' kitchen will stay open until closing time and not turn away customers who come in 10-15 minutes before closing.
"Taking care of the customer and customer service is what it's all about," Hilke said.
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