In the 1970s and 1980s, pizzerias and pipe organ restaurants were popular. Now there are only two left in the United States and Organ Stop Pizza has a mighty organ ready to help the restaurant sell pizza.
Most pizza concepts are looking for a niche that sets it apart in a crowded field. Organ Stop Pizza already has one built-in – the largest and most valuable theater organ in the world, estimated at over $6 million. Along with the brand’s signature pizza, it is one of only two “pizza and pipe” restaurants remaining in the United States.
The pizza and pipe concepts were popular in the 1970s and 1980s, said Jack Barz, co-owner of Organ Stop. Organ Stop Pizza was born in 1972. Barz began his career as a dishwasher in 1985 before working his way up and eventually buying the restaurant in 2004. He has a degree in hotel and restaurant management.
On the menu
Organ Stop is a counter service concept with a medium crust that falls somewhere between thin and thick crust.
“It’s a very crispy crust on the bottom,” Barz said. “We get a nice crispy brown, but it’s actually soft and mushy in the center. … It’s a little different from places that are either.”
There’s a salad bar, a handful of plated dinners, sandwiches, and appetizers, but you won’t find chicken wings on the menu. The restaurant is not ventilated for a fryer and there is no room for one in the kitchen anyway. They use a small air fryer for some appetizers.
The best-selling pizza is the combination, which includes cheese, pepperoni, sausage, ham, beef, bacon, mushrooms, black olive, green pepper, and onion. For snowbirds wintering in Arizona, Barz said Hawaiian, with cheese, ham and pineapple, is a seasonal favorite.
“We are very cyclical in the winter months,” Barz said. “We have a lot of older retired winter visitors from other parts of the country, and they’re big fans of the Hawaiian.”
Organ Stop Pizza has a beer and wine license. The brand uses a Middleby Marshall conveyor oven which can output 200 pizzas per hour.
Currently, staffing remains a challenge for Organ Stop Pizza, as it does for many other restaurants across the country. “Now it’s more about finding people, but in normal times it’s about trying to develop them the way we want them to be. Our focus is definitely customer service, and that’s so pretty easy to find people to do the job, but my biggest thing is I want to find people having fun while they’re doing it and making all of our guests feel welcome,” Barz said.
To hire, Organ Stop uses social media and friends of current workers, using incentives to get employees to recommend friends and family to come work for the pizzeria. When employees bring people in, they also get a higher sign-up bonus.
“It’s been a brutal winter trying to recruit staff,” Barz said. “Going into the slower months I’m actually a bit overstaffed until it starts up again with people traveling during the summer. Right now I’m sitting pretty well. It’s good to ‘to have a bit of a break from my schedule.’
The biggest lesson Barz has learned is “to have patience and go with the flow,” he said. He realized, especially in the last two years, that he can’t control everything and that the job requires adaptation.
In the 1970s, there were three Organ Stop pizzas, but the concept has since been scaled down to the original. “It’s not that we don’t want to (open another store). It’s very capital intensive to get the instrument as well as to find more people to play it and maintain it,” Barz said.
So, about this organ…
The Mighty Wurlitzer, as it is known, was originally built for the Denver Theater in 1927, where it performed well into the 1930s. It was put into storage after the advent of talkies and the Great Depression , and was damaged in a fire in the auditorium.
Organ Stop bought it in the 1970s at a fifth of its current size and rebuilt it. Since then, the organ has been embellished from its original state with the addition of several sets of rare pipes, including a massive set of 32-foot wooden diaphones. They are visible from the front of the building.
“It’s really the foundation of the restaurant,” Barz said. “The pipe organ is the restaurant. It’s what we started out on. It’s what we’re known for. I really like to think of ourselves as an entertainment center that sells pizza for money. silver.
“People come from all over the country, from all over the state to hear this pipe organ because it’s basically the biggest and best there is.
Each night, the organ rises above the audience on an 8,000-pound rotating hydraulic lift. It is 10 feet from the 700-seat dining hall. It has 1,074 keys, knobs and switches linked to a series of xylophones, glockenspiels, gongs and cymbals to create the sound of a full-fledged orchestra.
The restaurant attracts around 300,000 customers each year to eat pizza and listen to songs like “Flight of the Bumblebee”, “The Hills are Alive”, and “The Circle of Life”.
“The theater organ world is a different world than church or classical organs,” Barz said. “There are a lot of classical organs that are much, much bigger than ours…but it’s a different beast.”