The food at Springfield staple Pizza House – thin crust pizza cut into squares and a couple of salad options – has been the same since its beginnings in 1958. It’s a straightforward recipe that’s equated success for the popular eatery, as its annual revenue approaches $1 million.
“We like the acronym KISS – keep it simple, stupid,” says owner Stacey Schneider. “That’s clearly worked.”
Schneider’s kicked around the idea of making menu changes in the past but says she always lands back on maintaining the pizza, salad and drinks combo.
“I like the ‘basicness’ of it,” she says, noting it certainly keeps ordering restaurant supplies easy.
One change on the menu had nothing to do with food. Beer and wine sales were introduced in March 2018, and officials say it’s been a game-changer.
“People would ask, ‘When are you going to start serving beer?’ When we did that, sales went up,” says longtime employee Tanya Richardson, who is Schneider’s right hand at the restaurant. “Not that we were selling so much beer, but people were coming more because they could have a beer with their pizza.”
Richardson says a nearly $30,000 renovation in 2015 for additional space in a connecting building opened up more than 20 seats for the establishment. Seating capacity is now at 80, but a wait for a table or booth still regularly occurs.
“At peak hours, there’s a line at the door – especially on Fridays and Saturdays,” Schneider says of the dinner times.
Richardson says since adding beer and wine to the menu, monthly sales are now around $85,000 – an increase of nearly $25,000 per month over early 2018. Revenue for 2018 was approximately $890,000, up 18% from around $755,000 in 2017.
That monthly revenue jump is allowing a $500,000 loan to be paid off quicker. That will make Schneider the owner of the two Commercial Street buildings housing the eatery and a trio of second-story loft apartments. She took out the loan in 2014 to buy the buildings from Mary Collette, a fellow C-Street business owner. Schneider says the loan should be paid off in less than five years.
Schneider’s history with Pizza House goes back farther than her ownership in 2008. She started working there at 15 years old as a summer job, and now has devoted nearly half her life to the business.
When Schneider bought the business from founder Dorothy Smith, who retired, she says the future of the eatery was uncertain.
After a landlord dispute earlier in ’08, the restaurant was evicted from its 50-year home at 1349 S. Glenstone Ave. She recalls having 45 days to find a turnkey space and move the restaurant.
But that’s what she found with the 312 E. Commercial St. property owned by Collette. In 2008, C-Street wasn’t a place where businesses were flocking, she says, due to perceptions of it being unsafe.
“Commercial Street didn’t have me hesitate because it has a very long history,” the Springfield native says, adding she regularly visited flea markets there when she was younger. “This street didn’t ever scare me. I was excited from the get-go.”
That doesn’t mean Schneider was supremely confident about running a business, initially signing just a one-year lease with Collette. In 2009, she signed on for five years and by 2014 was ready to buy the buildings.
“I’m not going to let anyone evict me again,” she says.
Upon moving to C-Street, she didn’t know if customers would follow.
“I was definitely concerned that they were nervous about this location,” she says. “But I didn’t have anywhere else to go. If we make the pizza, you will come. I used to say that a lot.”
Longtime customer Dick Jones never had any hesitation to visit Pizza House on C-Street. The executive director of Springfield-based nonprofit A Sporting Chance has been dining at the restaurant since 1967. He says he still dines in weekly.
“As soon as I found out they were reopen there, I was probably one of their first customers,” he says. “If they see me come in, they don’t even need me to order.”
His regular? A small hamburger pizza with a Dr Pepper. He estimates he’s spent about $10 per visit for more than 50 years. That equates to nearly $27,000.
“I’m glad to say I’m addicted to that food,” he says.
Keep it going
Now reaching third and fourth generations of customers, Schneider and Richardson, who have worked together at Pizza House for 15 years, say C-Street was the right move. Though the restaurant was profitable prior, they say its arrival on the north side was a boost to the bottom line.
“Our business has tripled since we’ve moved here,” Richardson says. “We have new customers here all of the time.”
Schneider refers to Richardson as “the numbers person,” as her co-worker rattles off the eatery’s record total of pizzas sold in a single day – 510 on Feb. 22, 2014. When the annual “Thriller” performance is held on C-Street around Halloween, the restaurant regularly sells over 400 pizzas, Richardson says. On any average Friday and Saturday, the pizza sales range between 300 and 325.
Schneider says today she’d make the same choice to buy the establishment more than a decade ago.
“This was meant for me, and I was meant for it,” she says. “This is not my restaurant; this is the customers’ restaurant.”
Colleen and Ryan Sundlie launched a new Commercial Street venture next door to their Date Lady Inc. business; Citizens Memorial Hospital finalized the purchase of Stephens Pharmacy Inc.; and a retail gift and apparel shop primarily aimed at men, dubbed H.I.M., opened.
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