The Arizona Republic

Or­gan Stop’s pizza, pipes draw crowds

Mu­sic, din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence keep pa­trons re­turn­ing to this Mesa restau­rant

- By Ge­or­gann Yara Belgium · Wurlitzer · Belarus · Jack Dorsey · Colombia · Mesa · Phoenix · The Walt Disney Company · Glendale · Iceland · Austria · University of Arizona · Arizona · American Theatre Organ Society

It might be the only pizza restau­rant where pizza isn’t the main at­trac­tion. And the venue may have done more for the rep­u­ta­tion of or­gan mu­sic than a church or ball­park could have.

Lit­tle has changed over the four decades since Or­gan Stop Pizza opened its doors. It has drawn lo­cals and tourists from all over the world with en­chant­ing har­monic com­po­si­tions emit­ted from the 86-year-old Wurl­itzer pipe or­gan, the star of this pop­u­lar fam­ily restau­rant.

In an era when trends and whimsical fads tend to rule the in­dus­try, stick­ing with tra­di­tion has been by de­sign — and it’s worked.

“We like to keep it as sim­ple as pos­si­ble,” said Jack Barz, co-owner of Or­gan Stop, when re­fer­ring to the menu. It in­cludes pasta and sand­wich dishes and a salad bar in ad­di­tion to pizza. “There are al­ways peo­ple who sug­gest change, but we re­ally don’t lis­ten to them.”

Each year, about 300,000 pa­trons walk through Or­gan Stop’s doors, Barz said. Some come from a short drive away, while oth­ers have taken a plane from halfway around the world.

Some top­pings, ap­pe­tiz­ers and a gluten-free op­tion are on the short list of changes over the years, along with the cur­rent Mesa lo­ca­tion, which the restau­rant has called home since 1995.

The lo­cale has twice the ca­pac­ity as its orig­i­nal Phoenix shop, where its late founder Wil­liam P. Brown launched the busi­ness in 1972.

Barz joined the own­er­ship in 2005, along­side busi­ness part­ners Pat Rowan and Brad Bishop, who al­ready owned the restau­rant. Barz’s pro­fes­sional his­tory with Or­gan Stop be­gan when he was16, when he washed dishes and made piz­zas as a part-time job. In fact, Bishop was his boss.

Not giv­ing into the temp­ta­tions that proved to be pit­falls for many themed restau­rants that sprung up through­out the 1970s was a key to Or­gan Stop’s longevity, Barz said.

“A lot of restau­rants like this, when they got suc­cess­ful, added things like prime rib nights and fish nights and got away from the ba­sic pizza menu. It ended up be­ing bad for them,” Barz said.

The don’t-fix-what’s-not-bro­ken strat­egy sup­ported a solid fan base driven by the 1927 Wurl­itzer and the num­ber of tal­ented or­gan­ists that flaunted its melodic prow­ess over the years. The the­atri­cal ac­com­pa­ni­ments of pup­pets, disco balls, bub­bles and other vi­su­als gen­er­ated to com­ple­ment the range of clas­si­cal, Dis­ney and pop­u­lar mu­sic hits suc­ceeded in charm­ing even those who claimed to be anti-or­gan.

Barz talked about an e-mail he re­cently re­ceived from a man who had vis­ited Or­gan Stop for the first time. The man ad­mit­ted he didn’t want to go but was dragged in by his fam­ily.

“He came in, and they ended up stay­ing all night,” Barz said. “He wouldn’t let the fam­ily leave.”

Long­time reg­u­lar Made­line LiVolsi knows the feel­ing. In 1974, the then­high-schooler dis­cov­ered Or­gan Stop while cruis­ing around with a girl­friend on a Fri­day night. She ended up stay­ing for four hours.

“It hit me. I went home and told my mom and dad about it, and we be­came reg­u­lars,” said LiVolsi, who makes the 30-mile drive from her Glen­dale home to Mesa once a week.

That first trip ini­ti­ated a life­time pas­sion for or­gan mu­sic that re­sulted in LiVolsi’s in­volve­ment with the Val­ley of the Sun chap­ter of the Amer­i­can Theatre Or­gan So­ci­ety, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that pre­serves, main­tains and re­stores the pipe or­gan and its mu­sic.

LiVolsi be­lieves the mu­sic is the restau­rant’s main draw.

“It wowed me right off the bat,” she said. “Now, I love to sit and watch new­com­ers come in and look at ev­ery­thing and be wowed like I was.”

Barz was 6 when he walked into Or­gan Stop for the first time with friends. He re­called know­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence was like noth­ing he’d ever felt and think­ing, “this place is re­ally cool.”

Af­ter Barz earned his de­gree in ho­tel and restau­rant man­age­ment at North­ern Arizona Univer­sity, he re­turned to the Val­ley and joined his for­mer em­ployer on a full-time ba­sis as a man­ager. He rose through the ranks.

The Wurl­itzer is the one as­pect of the busi­ness that is in a per­pet­ual state of change, as the own­ers are al­ways on the hunt for rare pipes. There are nearly 6,000 pipes and more than 1,000 but­tons, knobs and switches — such a com­plex piece of art that only about a dozen or­gan­ists in the na­tion can play it, Barz said. Once a week, the or­gan un­der­goes a full day of main­te­nance.

Re­cently, Barz said, Or­gan Stop has hosted birth­day cel­e­bra­tions for a child turn­ing 3 and a woman who turned 105.

He re­called tourists who com­pared the Or­gan Stop ex­pe­ri­ence to the one they had at the Grand Canyon the day be­fore.

And, even af­ter spend­ing most of his life as a cus­tomer, em­ployee and owner, Barz con­tin­ues to rel­ish pa­trons’ re­ac­tions to the lights as they turn on, the power of the in­stru­ment and be­ing in awe that just one per­son con­trols it all.

“See­ing the look on peo­ple’s faces for the first time as they see ev­ery­thing start­ing up ... that’s al­ways a neat ex­pe­ri­ence for me,” Barz said.

“It makes us feel re­ally good to bring joy to peo­ple’s lives.”

 ?? PHO­TOS BY MICHAEL CHOW/THE REPUB­LIC ?? For four decades, such per­form­ers as Char­lie Balogh have en­ter­tained pa­trons at Or­gan Stop Pizza by churn­ing out tunes on an 86-year-old Wurl­itzer pipe or­gan. Once a week, the or­gan un­der­goes a full day of main­te­nance.
PHO­TOS BY MICHAEL CHOW/THE REPUB­LIC For four decades, such per­form­ers as Char­lie Balogh have en­ter­tained pa­trons at Or­gan Stop Pizza by churn­ing out tunes on an 86-year-old Wurl­itzer pipe or­gan. Once a week, the or­gan un­der­goes a full day of main­te­nance.
 ??  ?? Co-owner Jack Barz on Or­gan Stop Pizza’s menu: “We like to keep it as sim­ple as pos­si­ble.”
Co-owner Jack Barz on Or­gan Stop Pizza’s menu: “We like to keep it as sim­ple as pos­si­ble.”
 ??  ?? Or­gan Stop Pizza moved to its cur­rent Mesa lo­ca­tion in 1995. Each year, about 300,000 peo­ple walk through its doors.
Or­gan Stop Pizza moved to its cur­rent Mesa lo­ca­tion in 1995. Each year, about 300,000 peo­ple walk through its doors.

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