It's an underdog comeback tale worthy of a movie starring Sylvester Stallone. Or maybe Ralph Macchio. But the star of this story is Tom Beisheim, the longtime pizza chef and former owner of the Pinky’s Pizza restaurant on the corner of California and Broadway Avenues. Beisheim worked in the pizzeria as a high school student in the 1960s, and purchased the place in the early 1970s. With his signature sauce and dough recipes, and his steel trap memory of every customer’s name and favorite pizza order, Beisheim made Pinky’s into an institution for generations of East Bay residents over the next three decades.
Alas, in August 2008, Beisheim closed his business, due to issues with his landlord and lack of parking spaces. The always-popular restaurant overflowed with customers in its final days, as Pinky’s regulars convened over what they thought were their final slices. I made sure to pop in on the last day of business, for one last pizza and game of Ms. Pac-Man. It was a sad day, to see Pinky's close, like saying goodbye to an old friend who made great pizza at reasonable prices, and also had a lot of other friends who were always stopping by.
I wasn't the only one who was bummed about the closing.
“Pinky’s has always been a special place. To me, it’s about the community there,” says longtime Pinky's fan Dan Lilly. “When Pinky’s closed, there wasn’t a Cheers-style place left in Walnut Creek—a watering hole where people come together from all walks of life to have good food and conversation, while catching the ball game on TV.”
Here comes the comeback part of the story.
Lilly, 43, who had been going to Pinky’s since his elementary school days, started talking to Beisheim about relocating before Beisheim had cooked his final pizza in the old location.
After Beisheim retired, Lilly kept in close touch, encouraging him to consider opening in a new location. Early in 2011, Lilly found the perfect spot at 2085 North Broadway. Beisheim sold his business name and recipes to Lilly and a group of investors, who insisted that Beisheim come back as the restaurant’s front man.
Beisheim, Lilly, and the new ownership group has gone to great lengths to make sure Pinky’s 2.0 has the same magic that the old place had. The new restaurant has already created 25 new jobs, and has brought back several former cooks and employees, including restaurant manager Donna Robinson.
“I went to school in Chicago, lived in New York for awhile, and I have traveled all over the world, but Pinky’s is what I always think of when I think of pizza,” says Chuck Strickler, another principle investor in the new company. “Re-opening Pinky’s Pizza in Walnut Creek is our way of hoping things will start to change for the better; in our community, in the U.S., and in the world.”