By LANCE ARMSTRONG, Valley Community Newspapers writer
Fifteen years have passed since the closure of Shakey’s Pizza Parlor & Ye Public House at 5641 J St. But despite this passage of time, the community has not forgotten the many memories that this eatery delivered during its more than 40 years in East Sacramento.
This homegrown business, which grew to become an international chain, was undoubtedly one of the most cherished restaurants in the city’s history.
Three months ago, the old J Street location of the business became home to Clark’s Corner restaurant and bar. This new business is the fourth eatery/bar to move into the old quarters since the departure of Shakey’s, as Sweetwater Restaurant and Bar, the East End Bar and Grill and The Corner Restaurant and Bar predate the opening of Clark’s Corner.
Certainly many people remember other local Shakey’s locations, including 6429 Riverside Blvd., 3333 Balmoral Drive, 5640 Auburn Blvd., 7315 Fair Oaks Blvd. in Carmichael and 5508 Watt Ave. in North Highlands. But no Shakey’s location had the same ambience and nostalgia that was connected with the East Sacramento site.
For history’s sake alone, this Shakey’s site is special, since on April 15, 1954, it became the very first Shakey’s parlor.
The business was founded by Sherwood “Shakey” Johnson and Ed Plummer.
Shakey (1925-1998), who acquired his nickname during World War II, when he suffered from malnutrition that caused weight loss and shakiness in his hands, explained the restaurant’s place in history in an article published in the Dec. 16, 1973 edition of The Sacramento Union.
In the article, Shakey explained that East Sacramento’s Shakey’s Pizza Parlor was the world’s first pizza parlor.
“Sure, there were pizzerias that served pizzas along with other foods,” Shakey told The Union. “They were essentially restaurants. Ours was the first pizza parlor – serving one product – in the world. We unwittingly created an industry within an industry.”
In addition to this notoriety, Shakey’s eventually became the first pizza parlor chain in America.
Just like his restaurant, Shakey, who attended El Dorado School at 5255 J St. and Kit Carson Junior High School at 1300 54th St. and was a 1943 graduate of Christian Brothers High School, began his life in East Sacramento.
Shakey, who grew up at 1041 47th St. in the vicinity of the Little Italy neighborhood, was the son of Chris and Mildred Johnson. Chris was known at different times in his life for his service in such positions as the deputy county clerk, chief deputy district attorney and a lawyer with McAllister and Johnson at 1107 9th St.
Although Shakey, who had a brother named Russ, was a law student readying himself to graduate from what later became today’s McGeorge School of Law, a fishing trip with Ed, who was also a McGeorge student, in about 1953 resulted in a conversation that led to the establishment of Shakey’s.
Shakey, who just prior to the opening of Shakey’s, was working as an insurance adjuster near the popular El Chico restaurant, which served pizza, spaghetti and meatballs and other food items at 1500 Broadway, discussed the possibility of establishing a business with Ed.
After contemplating the idea of opening a cocktail lounge, Shakey and Ed decided that they would combine draft beer with pizza in a restaurant with an inviting, family-style environment.
Eventually, Shakey and Ed discovered the availability of the J Street building that for many years housed grocery stores under different proprietors and would eventually become home to the first Shakey’s.
The building was originally the site of the Glenwood Cash Store, which opened in 1923 and was first owned by William W. White, George Terry and Edward W. Dickinson.
Dickinson resided on the upper level of the cash store building and White and Terry lived nearby at 5717 J St.
By about 1926, the business was owned by the partnership of George Terry and Lillian Poe of 2026 E St. and was accompanied by a service station.
The only businesses located in the building until the opening of Shakey’s were the grocery store/service station and the rentals of the upstairs boarding quarters.
When Shakey and Ed finally opened Shakey’s, the place was an instant success, as is evident by the fact that 14 people were assisting with the restaurant after its first week in operation.
The earliest Shakey’s customers could obtain a lot for $1, as one could purchase a small pizza for 90 cents and a glass of beer for a dime.
As opposed to using standard, then-modern baking ovens, Shakey, who was residing at 740 Fulton Ave., decided to have his eatery’s pizzas cooked in brick ovens, which were patterned after the mud ovens that he remembered seeing in Little Italy.
Also adding to the uniqueness of the parlor was its establishment as a jazz venue, where various live bands, including the Silver Dollar Jazz Band and the Capital City Jazz Band, would perform. Shakey himself was also known to perform jazz music at his place of business, which later added ragtime and honky-tonk to its live music offerings.
Fair Oaks resident Bill Holden said that he has fond memories of listening to jazz and dining at the first location of Shakey’s.
“They had the music there (at Shakey’s) when I was going there when I was dating my (later) ex-wife, Audrey, in either 1954 or 1955,” Holden said. “We got married in 1956. The music really added to the environment. (Shakey’s) was a charming place. I just loved it there so much.”
In 1957, Shakey’s began its expansion to different locations with the opening of its Portland, Ore. restaurant. And by the mid-1960s, Shakey’s had 15 different parlors.
Shakey, who worked at the East Sacramento restaurant daily, sold his half of the business in 1966 and Ed sold his interest two years later.
Following the departure of its original ownership, Shakey’s continued to grow.
In 1974, for instance, the restaurant featured about 500 restaurants throughout the globe, including in Japan, Brazil and Guam.
Although a fire ended Shakey’s half-century run at its original location, the restaurant, which has been owned by various proprietors throughout the years, presently has 51 California parlors, two in the state of Washington, and one each in Utah, Alabama, Georgia and Hawaii. Another Shakey’s is scheduled to open in Florida.
With the absence of Shakey’s parlors in Sacramento today, Clark’s Corner owner, Clark Branscum, is working to bring back a little bit of the old Shakey’s restaurant to its original location.
“I was born and raised in East Sacramento,” said Branscum, a 1999 graduate of Jesuit High School. “I grew up on 42nd and 45th streets and I used to play East Sac Little League and after (the games), my mom would take me to Shakey’s pizza. So, I have fond memories of (Shakey’s). And I do know Shakey’s was known for its jazz and Sherwood was known for being the king of jazz. I’m actually getting a music license and I’m going to start having live jazz music in my restaurant, as well, just to kind of pay homage to the era and to the history of the building.”
And of course, it was important to Branscum to add pizzas to his many menu offerings in his efforts to pay tribute to Shakey’s legacy as an important and cherished slice of Sacramento restaurant history.
For additional information about the current business at the old Shakey’s business, call (916) 457-5600 or visit the Web site www.clarkscornerbar.com.