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Organ Stop Pizza celebrates 40 years...

Started by KB7DQH, June 14, 2012, 06:51:22 AM

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QuoteMesa landmark Organ Stop Pizza celebrates 40 years merging pies and organ music

    MICHELLE REESE  East Valley Tribune
    June 10, 2012 - 4:05 am EDT

MESA, Ariz. — Pizza and organ music first came together in Mesa 40 years ago.

This June 5, 2012, photo shows Organ Stop Pizza manager Jack Barz pose for a photo in the dining room with a 1927 Wurlitzer Pipe Organ, in Mesa, Ariz. Pizza and organ music first came together in Mesa 40 years ago. In the last 40 years, an estimated 10 million customers have been served; about 4 million pizzas have been eaten during then 100,000 estimated performances. (AP Photo/East Valley Tribune, Tim Hacker) ARIZONA REPUBLIC OUT; MARICOPA COUNTY OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

Cheryl Johnson remembers first going to Organ Stop Pizza when, as a young mother, she brought her family to Mesa from Minnesota to visit her then-recently retired parents.

"When my mom and dad lived in Mesa in a retirement community in the '70s, that's how I got to Organ Stop Pizza. Mom and dad took us there. That's how I attended the pizza and music. Mom and dad thought it was so much fun," Johnson recalls.

Now a resident of Sun City, Johnson organizes trips for Recreation Centers of Sun City, Inc.

"It's a very popular tour with our seniors, not only for loving pizza, but as well for their love for music," she said.

Real estate developer Bill Brown opened the original Organ Stop Pizza in Phoenix in 1972. Three years later — in 1975 — Brown opened a Mesa Organ Stop Pizza near Dobson Road and Southern Avenue. That location became home to a Wurlitzer organ that was previously housed in the Denver Theater.

Nine years after that, Brown decided to sell both locations. While the Phoenix restaurant was demolished (the organ was sold, first), the Mesa location was sold to a longtime employee. Plans were made to double the size of the restaurant and a site was selected near Stapley Drive and Southern Avenue. It took one month to take apart the organ and three months to rebuild it, but in November 1995, Organ Stop Pizza opened in the location it remains in today.

The Wurlitzer has also grown.

    When the original organ was bought, it cost about $35,000 and had about 1,000 pipes, said Jack Barz, manager and co-owner of Organ Stop Pizza.

With 6,000 pipes, today it is the largest theater organ in the world, with an estimated replacement value of $4 million. It takes nearly 50 miles of wiring to connect all the pieces of the 30-ton instrument.

The organ itself is impressive when you hear — and see — all the bells and whistles. The most recent addition, purchased in 2011, is a set of tuned cowbells.

There are eight different types of trumpets, two upright pianos, cymbals, wind chimes, a slide whistle, drums and more.

This machine can play it all.

Or, more fitting to say, one person can play it all with this instrument.

The restaurant's key organists are Lew Williams and Charlie Balogh. Both have a long history of playing at Organ Stop Pizza.

Douglas Benton, director of music ministries at Gold Canyon United Methodist Church, is a big fan of Williams. He takes a group from the church to Organ Stop Pizza yearly, just to hear Williams play.

"He's the best organist in the world," Benton, an organist himself, said.

There is a "mystique" to the organ, Benton said, because very few people in the world play the instrument.

"Unless you do it, you don't know how the whole thing works," Benton said.

Balogh recently gave a tour to the Tribune.

It started with Balogh and his organ keys rising from the floor up on to a stage at the center of the eating area.

His first musical selection: "Under the Sea," from Disney's "The Little Mermaid."

He was barely done with the last note when my son hollered, "Play 'Star Wars.'"

Balogh was quick to get the tune started. At least we weren't asking for "Phantom of the Opera," the most requested piece of music at Organ Stop Pizza, Balogh said.

In fact, through the years, Balogh estimates he's played "Phantom of the Opera," between 18,000 and 19,000 times.

Barz offered up a few other fun facts from the history of Organ Stop Pizza. In the last 40 years, an estimated 10 million customers have been served; about 4 million pizzas have been eaten during then 100,000 estimated performances.

"It's an inexpensive say to feed and entertain the family, Barz said. "Everybody loves pizza and it's a terrific show for the whole family that can come in for $25."

Besides, where else can you see a family of dancing cat puppets?

From now through June 30, a family can receive two large pizzas, two pitchers of soda and appetizers for $40 to celebrate the restaurant's anniversary. Just last week, the restaurant started offering a gluten free pizza for patrons.


Information from: East Valley Tribune,


QuoteJack Barz and Brad Bishop know exactly what keeps people coming back to their pizza restaurant -- the organ.

"People come in here and are blown away by the size of it, the scope of it," Barz said.

Barz and Bishop are co-owners of Organ Stop Pizza, near Stapley Drive and Southern Avenue, famous for its nearly 6,000-pipe 1927 Wurlitzer theater organ. The business is celebrating 40 years of delivering pizza and a distinctive musical experience.

There is no doubt the organ, which takes up the north wall of the restaurant, is what draws people in. Just the console, with four 61-key manual keyboards and hundreds of switches, rising out of a center dais is heralded by fanfare and flashing lights.

The organ's pipes range from the size of small pencils to big enough to fit six men inside. The largest pipe is a 37-foot-tall behemoth that plays a building-shaking low C.

The organ's console also controls a whole ensemble of instruments, including a grand piano, 1917 honky-tonk piano, percussion instruments, chimes and cymbals.

The music is backed up by lighting, bubbles, puppets, a disco ball and the American and Canadian flags for patriotic displays.

Barz said there are only a dozen people in the world who can play the organ competently. Organ Stop has two on staff, with a third who flies down from Oregon when needed.

None of the organists uses sheet music but will play requests from classical to Lady Gaga entirely by memory, he said.

"It's not like sitting in a church listening to an organ," Barz said.

To keep it working properly, the organ undergoes regular six to eight hours of maintenance every Monday. Once a year the restaurant flies in specialists from Indiana and Ohio for a weeklong tuning.

Bishop, who started working at Organ Stop as a part-time employee in college, said he has heard hundreds of customers say they need to return with friends and family. During the winter months, the restaurant is regularly standing-room only, he said.

Organ Stop opened in Phoenix in 1972, and another was added at Dobson Road and Southern Avenue in Mesa three years later. After the original owner, William Brown, retired in 1984, the Phoenix location was demolished and its organ sold. The Mesa location moved into its current, larger building in 1995.

Bishop said he estimates that 5.5 million customers have passed through the restaurant since he became a part-owner in 1985, and 8 million to 10 million have come since 1972.

Henry Ettinger and his wife, Jane, winter visitors from Calgary, Alberta, went to Organ Stop recently.

"I'm blown away by that ability -- holy smoke," Jane Ettinger said.

Pat Appel and her family, from Albuquerque, have visited six times in the past 20 years. The family returned recently to relive old memories.

She said the pizza is OK, but that's not what her family comes for.

"(The organ) actually has bells and whistles," she said.

Her son, Dan, said there's nothing like it in all the world.

"The closest you can get is an actual concert organist in a cathedral in Europe," he said.

Read more:

Organ Stop Pizza

What: The organ that gives Organ Stop Pizza its name was built for the Denver Theatre in 1927 and was silenced in the early 1930s, the victim of a fire and the advent of talking motion pictures, according to Organ Stop's website. In the theater, the organ had a three-manual console and 15 ranks, or sets, of pipes. Organ Stop bought it in the early 1970s and rebuilt the instrument by acquiring parts from old Wurlitzers. The resulting 23-rank organ was installed in 1975.

Through Aug. 31, Organ Stop is celebrating its anniversary by offering three specials, including a meal for eight for $40, which includes two appetizers, two pizzas and two pitchers of soda (some exclusions apply).

Where: 1149 E. Southern Ave., near Stapley Road, Mesa.

When: 5-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. (Summer hours until Thanksgiving).

Details: 480-813-5700,

Read more:

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