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Mar 2, 2016

The Shakey's Pizza of yesteryear

As a young boy living in California during the 70's, my absolute favorite pizza parlor to visit was Shakey's.  I have such great memories of dining there as a kid, and I truly miss the atmosphere and food we used to enjoy at their many establishments. Upon walking into Shakey's, you were instantly greeted with live rag time music played by banjo players and a pianist pounding out tunes on an upright piano.  The employees wore striped shirts, arm bands, and skimmer hats, and were all very lively. There was a very welcoming, vaudevillian feel to the restaurant, and whether you were young or old, it was nearly impossible not to have your spirits immediately lifted.

 Back then we had a big family that was very social. Shakey's was one of the only places we could visit that easily accommodated families as big as ours, with upwards of 20 people.  They used to have these long wooden tables with benches that could seat the multitude of cousins, aunts, and uncles we brought with us.  I remember as the pitchers of soda and root beer hit the table, my stern old man would suddenly become more relaxed and jovial. The kids would quickly settle into the loud and festive surroundings, progressively get louder, and could do so literally unnoticed. I do remember my younger cousin getting a smack once however.  She got so caught up in the festivities and merry making that the rest of us kids were enjoying, she stood up on her chair, and screamed as loud as she could just for the heck of it.  She got a little smack to the mouth, but that didn't even phase her.  She just sat back down and started laughing at the silly things my other cousins and I were doing.

An item synonymous with the old Shakey's franchise, is the Shakey's skimmer hat.  It was an endearing souvenir that I still love to this day.  They were basically faux straw hats with a red band around them displaying the Shakey's logo.  As the evenings progressed, my old man would inevitably get a hold of a skimmer hat and wear it for the rest of the evening, often acting like a southern gentlemen, or Desi Arnaz.
 My old man in 1975 hamming it up in a Shakey's Skimmer hat 
after an evening out at Shakey's with the family.

My 1970's vintage Shakey's Skimmer hat
And there was no shortage of stuff for the kiddo's to do while our moms and dads socialized.  There was a glass window that you could look through to watch the employees making pizza's.  I recall the employees handing out kazoo's on occasion to the kids (and folks who were kids at heart) further adding to our fun.  Between the banjo and piano players music sets, episodes of the Little Rascal's, Laurel and Hardy, and The Three Stooges would play on a big screen which would quickly quiet us kids down.

In the 70's, many Shakey's had pinball rooms which evolved into arcades later in the 80's.  The Shakey's we frequented near Pomona had a coin operated horse ride that worked off of tokens.  The tokens were always free for the asking from any Shakey's employee, and I swear my cousins and I practically wore that poor horse out. I was always excited to see what kinds of cool promo items Shakey's had, that I could try and convince my Mom and Dad to buy for me.  I remember promotions offering such items as baseball cards, miniature plastic football helmets, cameras, etc.  I didn't realize it back then, but most of the items usually came free with a large pizza purchase.

Rediscovering Shakey's
I knew Shakey's restaurants in this day and age couldn't possibly be a shadow of their former self, but out of curiosity and for old times sake, I gave them a try during a trip to California in 2009.  The banjo and piano players are obviously no longer present, and no old timey movies or shorts were being played either.  Instead, there were plenty of big screen TV's broadcasting all manner of sports programming.  There was a little arcade room that the kids and some Dad's were really enjoying.  The new restaurants are family friendly with a bright open air atmosphere that feels upbeat and full of energy. The pizza has changed for sure, and is absolutely nothing like it used to be.  It was good however, and I enjoyed their fried chicken and 'Mojo Potatoes' immensely.

So in the end, I had a pleasant experience, but didn't experience the magic I remember from years past.  I'm okay with that however, as I have plenty of great Shakey's memories that will last a lifetime.  How about you?  Do you have memories of Shakey's from years gone by, or are you still making memories to this day?  If so, I'd love to hear about them!

Visit Shakey's Online 


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