Of the pizzerias regularly cited as a favorite in Best of Amarillo, Pizza Planet serves up one thing its competitors will never, ever be able to match: history. Its founder, Kerry Evans, grew up in Wichita, Kan., moved to Amarillo in 1973, and opened Pizza Planet on Paramount Boulevard in 1974.
It’s been serving local customers from that location ever since.
Evans learned to make pizza at one of the first Pizza Hut restaurants in the nation. The international chain began in Wichita in 1958, and Evans had been a manager at one of those early locations. He arrived in Amarillo hoping to replicate what he’d learned. “He wanted Pizza Planet to be a place where a man could bring his family, sit down and have a beer, and not have to worry about noise,” says Pizza Planet manager Ronnie Inmon, who started working for Evans as a teenager and has been there ever since. “He wanted it to be a place to make memories. I’ve been here going on three decades and to see the evolution of customers and their families is really crazy. We have generations coming up and it’s been neat to see.”
Kerry Evans died in 2008. His daughter, Jennifer Evans-Gandy, now owns the restaurant, which is located at 2400 Paramount Blvd. Amarillo is home to two other Pizza Planets, both of which operate as separate businesses with the blessing of the Evans family. Kerry opened a Pleasant Valley location on Hastings in 1986, then handed it over to Robbie Rogers, its current owner. “They have the same name, but it’s almost a different style restaurant,” Inmon explains. Ed Todd, a former manager at the Paramount location, partnered with Evans in 2001 to open a takeout-and-delivery Pizza Planet on Bell Street.
While the three locations share the same heritage, they are each owned separately today – and differ among their menu items. Inmon realizes most customers don’t recognize this distinction. “It’s a daily struggle,” he says. “But we have a good working relationship.” In fact, the Bell and Paramount locations have recently started cooperating on a shared online ordering system.
But Pizza Planet on Paramount remains the original, and Inmon works hard to make sure he protects Evans’ legacy. “I try to continue every damn day what Kerry said: ‘Give them what they want and need. Let them try to take their minds off outside and enjoy their family and have that beer and not get crazy.’ Then they can go home and go back to life. He wanted to make it a respite.”
For many customers, that respite comes during lunchtime, thanks to Pizza Planet’s popular buffet. Evans didn’t open for lunch during the pizzeria’s early years. “But sometime he started running a buffet and I don’t think he really expected it to do what it does now. It’s crazy how many people come through that place on a good day,” Inmon says. He estimates a daily average of 100 customers purchasing the lunch buffet, which is open 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., every Sunday through Friday. On a recent Monday, when the all-you-can-eat pizza and salad are available at a special price of $5.99, Inmon rang up 157 lunchtime customers.
Despite those numbers, Inmon says that up to 75 percent of Pizza Planet’s business is pick-up and delivery (see sidebar). That keeps his team incredibly busy in the mornings and afternoons as they prepare for the daily rush. He and his staff hand-roll the homemade dough every morning, prepare the made-from-scratch ranch dressing, and work hard to maintain Pizza Planet’s hard-earned reputation.
“I’ve been doing it so long it’s a personal thing to me,” Inmon says. “I know this sounds corny as hell, but I’m trying to provide the best product I can possibly provide to the people.” He indicates his staff, who start the day making dressing, preparing dough, grating fresh-cut cheese, and chopping ingredients. “My people care. I see them every day trying really hard to see that we’re getting it right. We have a damn good product for the price. I take extreme pride [in this business] and I want Pizza Planet’s name to be good. That goes back to Kerry. I bought into what he was selling.”
Occupying a gap between more expensive gourmet joints and the ubiquitous chain restaurants, Inmon is pressed to describe the type of pizza available at his restaurant. He doesn’t hesitate. “To me, it’s Amarillo pizza. I’ve never seen anything quite like the way I do it – or how I’m continuing to do it from Kerry. It’s just Amarillo.”
Jason is a journalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, and the author of more than a dozen books. His most recent is “12 World Religions: The Beliefs, Rituals, and Traditions of Humanity's Most Influential Faiths”, published by Zephyros Press. Learn more at jasonboyett.com.