EDMOND — From a shelf full of vintage pizza parlor glasses to a wooden table and chairs from one of the last Ken’s Pizza restaurants to open in the early 1980s, there are reminders of the past all around the new Ken’s Pizza restaurant in west Edmond.
The restaurant at 628 W Danforth Rd is the first new Ken’s Pizza location to be built from the ground up in 32 years and opened its doors to the public for dinner Tuesday.
A wave of relief swept over Ken’s supervisor Courtney Kelley after getting all of the health department and occupancy paperwork cleared on Monday. Getting the restaurant open this week has been the culmination of three years of work for her family, who have been Ken’s franchisees for more than three decades.
“I just kind of broke down,” she said.
The young kitchen staff, many of them teenagers, were prepping pizzas for the ovens on Tuesday afternoon in anticipation for the first dinner crowd as Kelley rushed around taking care of last-minute details.
Kelley has grown up at Ken’s Pizza — she knew Ken’s founder Ken Selby from age 5, when her family opened up their first Ken’s restaurant in Prague in 1981. She started waiting tables at the restaurant at age 14 and spent all but about four years of her adult life working for her family’s pizza restaurants.
“Ken Selby was a teacher and his teaching and philosophy kind of carried over to his restaurants,” Kelley said. “And I still believe in the principles that he taught.”
The Ken’s brand was founded by high school chemistry teacher Selby in Tulsa in 1961, and the chain eventually grew to about 100 restaurants.
Kelley’s father, David Greer, has been driving back and forth from his home in Prague to Edmond each day working to get the new Ken’s open for the past year — he estimates he’s put about 52,000 miles on his pickup.
Greer is trained as a sculptor and opened his first Ken’s restaurant at age 40 after retiring from his art career.
“From pots to pizza,” Greer likes to joke.
The Greer family also operates Ken’s Pizza locations in Chandler, Prague and Guthrie, where the store was converted from a Mazzio’s in 2012. The Edmond location is the first entirely new Ken’s to open anywhere since the Greers opened the Chandler location in 1982.
“I’ve been trying for the past 10 years to get the company to open another Ken’s,” Greer said. Most Ken’s Pizza locations converted to the Mazzio’s brand in 1979, as the company tried to evolve with customer tastes, but some franchisees, like Greer, chose to stick with the Ken’s name and brand because of its popularity, Tulsa-based Mazzio’s said in a statement. Ken Selby’s children still control the brand and operate the company.
“Mazzio’s licenses the Ken’s Pizza trademarks in those locations to individuals like Mr. Greer who are long-time supporters of the Ken’s Pizza brand,” Mazzio’s said in a statement.
Greer planned the restaurant to be a tribute to the life of Selby and the Selby family. Selby served as Mazzio’s chairman until his death of lung cancer in 2012 at age 76.
“We had hoped to get the restaurant open before his death, but it just wasn’t possible,” Greer said.
Framed photographs of Selby hang in the restaurant, including a black and white photograph of Selby standing with his hands on his hips in front of his first pizza restaurant and a picture of Greer presenting Selby with a piece of pottery he made to commemorate the company’s 50th anniversary in 2011.
Mazzio’s decided to bring back the original recipe Ken’s pizza, featuring a spicy sauce and thin, crispy crust, to its menus for a limited time in 2011 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the company and later decided to make it a permanent offering after it became a top seller.
Although the Ken’s Pizza brand is still owned by Tulsa-based Mazzio’s, Ken’s has its own, distinct menu with sauces and crusts made from scratch.
“We are not fast food — we want people to enjoy good pizza that is handmade,” Kelley said.
This story is part of a series on Oklahoma’s forgotten retail chains.