The Hartford Courant · Sunday, October 25, 1998
by Dan Uhlinger
Twenty years of selling pizzas – pardon me – does add up to a lot of dough, and Willington Pizza House owner Jeff Kelly says what better way to mark the anniversary than to roll back prices to what they had been when the establishment opened.
This week Kelly plans to celebrate his restaurant’s 20th birthday with yesterday’s prices, clowns to entertain children and T-shirt giveaways.
Although pizza shops come and go all the time, the locally owned eatery has survived the vagaries of a tough restaurant market with an unusual assortment of toppings.
Two of the restaurant’s original creations actually took top national prizes in the Pizza Festiva Contest and were later featured at the Pizza Expo in Las Vegas in March 1994.
Ever heard of a red potato pizza with sour cream?
Don’t laugh. The pizza – red potatoes, sour cream, cheddar cheese, bacon, broccoli and chives – won first place in the exotic category.
At the time of the Las Vegas expo, “CBS This Morning” was on hand and beamed shots of the pizza across the United States. News anchor Harry Smith was heard saying “sounds awful” and “yuk.”
That prompted Marc Amtower, general manager of Willington Pizza, to challenge Smith to try the restaurant’s popular pizza before criticizing and Smith accepted. In the summer of 1994, Smith and Chef Rich Rogers, originator of the spud sensation went to New York and appeared on the television show.
After trying the concoction, Kelly said, Smith responded: “This is really very good.”
As well as recognition, the pizza house has won awards – “Best Pizza in Tolland County” award from Connecticut Magazine from 1990 through 1998.
The list goes on. The University of Connecticut’s newspaper, The Daily Campus, has ranked the restaurant’s pizza as tops.
Opened in 1978, Willington Pizza House quickly became a favorite for hungry students and staff from the UConn Storrs campus, it’s visitors and locals.
From a 12-seat hole in the wall, it has grown to a multiroom restaurant that seats 200 people indoors and another 35 on the patio.
Kelly said the secret ingredient to his restaurant’s success is Chef Rogers’ unusual topping combinations.
Ever heard of Southern-style barbecued pork for topping? You bet. That’s been one of them over the years.
Seafood casino pizza – crab, scallops and shrimp with a mayonnaise-lemon sauce – is another exotic winner that has been served. And if that’s not unique how about a pizza with ketchup – a component of the cheeseburger pizza, topped with hamburger, pickles, diced onions, sharp cheddar, bacon, mustard and the ketchup.
Kelly said the rollback prices will be available Wednesday and Thursday.
And don’t be surprised if something totally off the wall is in the topping du jour.