Do you remember the 2005 movie Man of the House starring Tommy Lee Jones? Yeah, me neither. But within that 97-minute reel, one of Austin's longest-standing pizza joints is memorialized forever. Perhaps even more noteworthy than their screen debut is the fact that Mangia Pizza was once the question to a Jeopardy! answer, and now the Chicago-style pizzeria celebrates standing tall for 30 years in the ever-changing local restaurant scene.
"As I understand it, young Jeff Sayers, the founder of Mangia Pizza, went to Chicago about 33 years ago to work at the famous Giordano's pizzeria and learn the business, Chicago deep-dish-style. After that, he came to Austin and opened the first Mangia," said Dave Turpin, an owner of the deep-dish demigod. "I [heard] that Mangia's dinosaur mascot was a gift from a tattoo shop owner whose shop was next door to the original Mangia. The shop owner liked the food and Jeff such that he designed the original logo for him."
If you've spent a Valentine's Day or Super Bowl in Austin, you've seen Mangia's heart- or football-shaped pizzas. Since 1988, Mangia has focused their menu on Italian comfort food and they've made quite a name for themselves with those easily recognizable sauce-topped creations. In a city of mostly wood-fired Neapolitan-style pies, Mangia's deep-dish pizzas are a hearty favorite with scratch dough, sauces, and dressings all made from longtime secret recipes prepared in-house. Mangia makes both whole wheat and thin crust pizzas, too, and they've got a boatload of other options including fan favorites like the Greek salad, Italian sausage sandwich, scratch tomato basil soup, and the popular Green Pig pizza that shows off some Tex-Mex flair with slow-cooked pulled pork. Pro tip: Mangia also serves burgers, fries, and homemade potato chips. "I am a personal fan of our hamburgers, which I think are among the best-kept burger secrets in Austin," says Turpin.
Over the years, Sayers moved the restaurant to a larger location, then opened several additional locations. When bankruptcy threatened to shutter the business about six years ago, outside investors got involved, changed the business strategy, and eventually closed all but the Gracy Farms location on Burnet Road. Turpin adds, "I would point out that 30 years ago, chains like Pizza Hut and Shakey's had a more dominant role than now when smaller, specialty operations have done well with the changing demographics and public taste preferences. The chains have not disappeared, just have more competition."
Even with the behind-the-scenes shake-ups, the food has remained consistent, and Turpin attributes that to loyalty and "a special something that some restaurant owners seem to have that transcends just preparing good food."
"We have a loyal following of people who are huge fans of the Chicago deep-dish style, regularly coming from out of Austin to refill their deep-dish preference. I even met a man recently who commutes to a job 8,000 miles away, but who always comes to Mangia for our food when he returns 'home' to Austin. That kind of customer loyalty always helps," he says. And with some of the kitchen staff clocking 20, even 30 years of experience, their knowledge is invaluable. "Even when we develop an occasional new product, the kitchen staff and the other employees never lose sight of what got us here."
On the day of the anniversary, Sunday, Nov. 11, there will be an all-day happy hour with $2 Dos Equis, $3 house wine, and half-price appetizers. They’ll be giving away T-shirts, and every customer will receive a raffle ticket for a chance to win free pizza for a year, free catering for up to 10 people, or a $50 gift certificate.
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