by Bobby Anderson, Staff Writer
It was the mid-1970s and Oklahoma State Students Bob Busby and Brent McMurry found themselves in need of a job.
As luck would have it, the geology major and sociology major wound up in the same Stillwater classroom.
Little did they know they would be working side-by-side helping building what would become a cult following in Stillwater and eventually all of Oklahoma in Hideaway Pizza.
“It feels like the guests take ownership in Hideaway, like they’ve worked there before, or like they’ve owned part of it when they’re introducing it to people,” said Busby, now Hideaway senior vice president. “They feel like it’s part of their own experience or their own story.”
Both are former owners (along with Gary Gabrel) of the Hideaway Pizza expansion restaurants that started on Cherry Street in Tulsa. Brett Murphy and Darren Lister are the current owners.
Busby now serves as the senior vice president while McMurry is the district manager for South Tulsa.
BACK IN THE DAY
Richard Dermer and his wife, Marti, bought the business back in 1957.
In the 60’s and 70’s, with happy customers filling the 12 tables in the tiny restaurant, Richard and Marti had a fleet of VW delivery Bugs racing over the streets of Stillwater.
Originally decorated with the Hideaway pizza man logo (Big Kahuna), they evolved into colorful, eclectic designs with zebra stripes, polka dots, flowers and ladybugs, and became synonymous with Hideaway Pizza.
The way to work at the original Hideaway Pizza early on was word of mouth. You had to be a friend of a friend or know someone who had worked there.
“My first shift was nine in the evening to two in the morning driving a Volkswagen,” Busby said. “I didn’t even know how to drive a standard. First thing I did was ask for someone to show me how to do this because I’ve got a load of pizzas.”
Pizza was delivered on campus through the via one of the largest fleets of Volkswagen Beetles in the U.S. Creatively painted by the employees, the VW bugs became an iconic symbol for the company along with vintage kites (Dermer was President of the American Kitefliers Association), collage art and the board game Pente.
In 1993, Dermer allowed the trio of trusted employees including Busby, McMurry and Gabrel (Pente creator) to form a development company to expand the concept into new markets outside of Stillwater while the Dermer family retains ownership of the flagship location.
The first Hideaway Pizza expansion restaurant opened in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Cherry Street District.
“It was just from the get-go lines out the door,” McMurry said.
Hideaway Pizza had successfully grown its footprint to include six restaurants in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metro areas when Lister and Murphy purchased the company in Feb. 2006.
Under their leadership, the company has grown into one of America’s favorite pizza companies, employing approximately 1,000 in two states.
The newest restaurant location (#17) opened on Oct. 10, 2016 at 5103 Warden Rd. in North Little Rock, Arkansas. It was the first Hideaway Pizza to open outside of Oklahoma.
Hideaway Pizza plans to open its next restaurant in 2017 in Conway, Arkansas.
There are approximately 61,269 pizzerias in the United States and Hideaway Pizza was ranked No. 66 in Pizza Today magazine’s 2016 ranking of the nation’s most successful pizza companies.
That’s a six-spot jump from 2015. Two other Oklahoma-based pizza companies were included in the 2016 report. Tulsa-based Mazzio’s Italian Eatery was ranked No. 29 (No. 27 in 2015) and Simple Simon’s Pizza, headquartered in Glenpool was ranked No. 49 (No. 45 in 2015).
It’s still fun for McMurry and Busby, who admit they still regularly eat the pizza.
Both agree it’s never been about how many stores Hideaway has but the quality of the people and product inside of each.
They enjoy pouring into the staff as much as pouring into customers. The mantra has always been happy employees equal happy customers.
Maybe that’s why Hideaway has become an Oklahoma favorite. It’s not just a place to stop and pick up a pizza – although Busby admits the takeaway business is phenomenal – Hideaway is a place where friends and family come for an evening meal.
“Pizza is such a social food because you share it. You can feed a lot of people from one thing. It’s a unique niche of the restaurant business we’ve got here,” Busby says.
And you’ll still see both of them back in the kitchen making sure Hideaway Pizza stays an Oklahoma tradition.