In November 1971, Richard Nixon was president and “Led Zeppelin IV” was released.
That same month in Seymour, a pizzeria opened that would become a culinary staple for the city.
Pizza Palace first opened its doors for business on Nov. 23, 1971. The day before, a dry opening was held just to make sure the restaurant’s operation would run smoothly.
John Moore is the founder of Pizza Palace. While John “Papa John” Schnatter is known as a pizza entrepreneur who came from Ball State, Moore is another pizza visionary who graduated from the school.
As a Ball State student, Moore was familiar with Pizza King restaurants and decided he wanted to run a business of his own. His mother and father went into partnership with him to start Pizza Palace in Seymour.
The restaurant is a family-owned business that has always had someone in the Moore family working in the kitchen across four generations.
Pizza Palace’s acting general manager is Amy Napariu, Moore’s daughter. She was 7 when Pizza Palace opened.
Her brother, Danny, is the restaurant’s general manager. Napariu stepped in to help run Pizza Palace in December 2020 after Danny had health complications.
For Napariu, pizza never gets old.
“People will ask me ‘Don’t you ever get tired of your pizza?’” she said. “It’s like, ‘No, I don’t. If I get tired of pizza, I’ll go to our sandwiches, and if I get tired of sandwiches, I’ll go to our salads.’”
Residing in New Palestine, Napariu said if she knows someone who is going through Jackson County, she would always ask them to swing through Pizza Palace to bring back a pie.
Now that she’s back to working at the pizzeria, she said there’s pizza for dinner every time she stops in.
Napariu said customer service has been key in Pizza Palace’s longevity.
“To this day, my main thing that I want to get across to these employees is customer service,” she said. “You go and ask them if they’re OK. You go out and ask them if they need a refill. Even though we have self-serve, go up and do it for them. They came here to be spoiled.”
Family traditions being passed down through the generations is another reason why Napariu said Pizza Palace has lasted.
“Grandpas are bringing their grandkids in,” she said. “The kids that used to play baseball, now they’re bringing their 8- and 9-year-olds in after ballgames. It’s so neat to watch.”
For years, the Sunbury family from Seymour would eat Pizza Palace pizza around Christmas when everyone is together. Because of this, Napariu said the restaurant does not close on Christmas Eve until they have their order in.
Another factor that has contributed to Pizza Palace’s long life, Napariu said, is the times that the restaurant has been able to be a part of the community by giving back, whether that’s by donating pizzas to schools or giving food to people who need it.
Pizza Palace has gone through many changes since its initial 1971 opening. It first opened in a 30-by-50-foot building and had a lounge, a family room, a carry-out window, a kitchen, restrooms and a storage area.
In December 1976, the building was burglarized and then heavily damaged in a fire. Pizza Palace reopened in a remodeled building in May 1977.
A round eagle’s nest-style home was built on the property of Pizza Palace in 1989 and became Bumper’s. It was a lounge with live music, a sunken pit bar in the center of the building, pizza with other food varieties and beer. It was called Bumper’s because that was Moore’s nickname.
In a Tribune ad from 1989, it said Bumper’s had a CD jukebox that was “the only one of its kind in Seymour.”
The Pizza Palace building was expanded in 1993 with the addition of Kids Pizza Kingdom. This saw Pizza Palace cater more to families with an atmosphere similar to Chuck E. Cheese. This new area featured a ball pit, air hockey, a sundae bar, ticket dispensing video games, pinball machines and a ticket redemption booth for patrons to earn prizes.
After the kids side of Pizza Palace was done away with and left dormant around 2014, Pizza Palace completely remodeled that area into a large dining room that featured a dozen televisions, a bar area and enough room to seat up to 170 people.
Even through the COVID-19 pandemic, the pizzeria has endured. Napariu said with delivery and curbside services available, the restaurant did very well last year despite times that staff was short-handed due to illness.
“I’m glad that we were stable and we had been in business a long time,” she said. “Had we not, we would have suffered like a lot of other businesses.”
Since Napariu has returned to the family business, Pizza Palace has gotten a repainting, equipment has replaced and updated and a brand-new sign, featuring an LED screen with Moore’s original 1971 sign design, went up two months ago.
While some members of the Moore family had ideas for what logo should be used for the new sign, Napariu decided to keep it classic.
“You know, Dad had a vision and he designed that sign, and I said, ‘It worked 30-something years before we got another one. I’m going back to that sign,’” she said.
Tuesday marks 50 years since Pizza Palace opened. In celebration, the restaurant is having a few events during the week.
Monday will be Retired Employee Day at 5 p.m. Six past employees will take over the kitchen for an hour to relive old times. Those working will be Joe Robertson and Steve Koerner preparing pizzas, Ed Koerner at the cutting station, Darrin Bohall on the ovens and Dustin Bohall with former Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman on delivery.
Following that shift will be an employee reunion in the dining area.
Radio 96.3 WJAA’s Cool Bus will be at the pizzeria on Tuesday. Quaff On! Brewing Co. also will be hosting a tap takeover on the same day, and a wheel will be available for people to spin to win prizes.
Wednesday night is Grand Prize Night. A big-screen TV, bicycles, neon signs, gift certificates and a pizza a week for a year are among the prizes being given away. The giveaways start at 7 p.m.
Ideas for the 50th anniversary celebration of the restaurant were first planned five years ago, Napariu said. Moore’s goal when starting Pizza Palace was to be in business for 50 years.
The future of Pizza Palace lies with the family. Napariu said she hopes family members will continue to work at Pizza Palace so customers will always have a familiarity with the restaurant.
Pizza Palace’s impact on the city started to set in with Napariu recently when she got the news that the pizzeria is a property for new board game Seymour-opoly.
“It makes you feel really good to know you’ve contributed to the town,” she said. “It’s a sign. We’re on the game. That’s something they can’t take away from us.”