Nosh Pit

Love letter topped with love, extra cheese

Gary Brown, left, and Jay Halverson took over ownership of Shakey’s in 1984. Shakey’s was for a time the world’s largest pizza chain. The original Shakey’s sign at 57th and J streets, above, is now part of the Sacramento history archives.
Gary Brown, left, and Jay Halverson took over ownership of Shakey’s in 1984. Shakey’s was for a time the world’s largest pizza chain. The original Shakey’s sign at 57th and J streets, above, is now part of the Sacramento history archives. Sacramento Bee file

Dear Shakey’s,

We sure miss you. Your flagship location, the one that spawned hundreds of franchises and popularized the idea of a pizza parlor, was born in 1954 at the corner of 57th and J streets in East Sacramento. But you’ve been gone so long.

That original Shakey’s shut down in 1996, following a fire, a truly sad day for Sacramentans who carried memories of live Dixieland jazz and eating slices after youth soccer games. We also fondly remember your Greenhaven location at the corner of Riverside and Florin Road, a hotbed for neighborhood kids on bikes who’d stop in for video games and pizza after tearing around the “Lizard Hill” BMX track behind the nearby Elk’s Lodge. That Shakey’s spot ditched the pizza many years ago, and is now a martial arts studio.

And there were other Shakey’s sites elsewhere in the area, including Carmichael and North Highlands. But your original Shakey’s in East Sacramento is why we’re writing. It transformed into several other eateries after that 1996 fire, but none of them captured our collective heart the way that you did. After five years of vacancy and a $1.1 million remodel, that squat, rectangular building emerged as East End Bar & Grill ... then Sweetwater Bar & Grill ... then Corner Bar.

And most recently the eatery was Clark’s Corner, which shut down unceremoniously on New Year’s Eve. Most of the employees didn’t even know the restaurant was closing until they showed up to work that day. Social media posts about the end of its run ultimately turned into threads reminiscing about Shakey’s, whether it was the banjo tunes or a description of the building as the “Mother Church of Shakey’s.”

So Shakey’s, won’t you please come home?

Your co-founder, Sherwood “Shakey” Johnson, is still revered as a local food and business hero. His passing in 1998 merited an obituary on the front of The Bee’s Metro section. By then, Johnson was long out of the pizza game, retiring in 1967 and selling his share of the company. But that single Shakey’s at 57th and J set a template of what pizza parlors should look and feel like, a place for families to share a pie in an upbeat atmosphere, with a few quarters for the kids to play some games. At its peak, Shakey’s could be found in more than 400 locations around the world.

In a pizza-loving town like Sacramento, we respect how Shakey’s built this pizza empire in our backyard. That original Shakey’s sign has been preserved in the Sacramento Archives and Museum Collection Center since 2002, ensuring that future generations of Sacramentans will remember this homegrown institution.

But Shakey’s restaurants have all but disappeared from these parts. The company headquarters are now in Southern California, in the city of Alhambra. Of your 200-plus locations worldwide, only one is in Northern California, and that’s all the way up in Oroville. How can Auburn, Ala., claim a Shakey’s but not Sacramento?

We know that Sacramento has transformed into a much more sophisticated place for pizza in the past few years. Whether it’s restaurants like Masullo, Hot Italian or Trick Pony, there’s a whole new generation of pizza makers obsessed with the minutia of sourdough starters or achieving the perfect bubbly char on their margherita. Shakey’s pizza was nothing fancy – a little flaky on the crust and perhaps a bit greasy – but ultimately filling and easy on the family budget.

It’s understood that Shakey’s would face plenty of competition if it returned to its original location. Hot City Pizza is across the street. Selland’s Market Cafe makes some tasty pies, and they’re just a few blocks away. The mighty Round Table has an outpost not far away at 51st and Folsom.

But Sacramentans can be staunch in their support of all things local, whether it’s Jimboy’s Tacos or a farm-to-fork eatery like Mulvaney’s B&L. Perhaps now’s the time to resurrect the Shakey’s legacy in Sacramento.

We believe in you, Shakey’s, even if calls to your headquarters turned into a game of unresolved phone tag. And you clearly remain connected to us. Your website proudly boasts “Est. 1954” and waxes about the Sacramento roots in the “our story” section.

So, in parting, we hope you’ve been well all these years, and wonder if maybe, just maybe, we’ll meet again at 57th and J streets.

Yours in pepperoni and banjos,

Sacramento

Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.

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