Terry Mach was a teenager when he began working at the Pizza King at 2929 South Ave. in 1976, and when he bought the La Crosse business in 1978.
It’s been 40 years since Mach, a 1977 Central High School graduate, bought the pizza restaurant on the city’s South Side.
Now 58, Mach isn’t ready to retire. But he knows he may have to move the business — which hasbeen at the same location ever since it opened in 1975 — because of plans for a new roundabout at 16th Street and South Avenue.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has plans to rebuild South Avenue, a project slated for 2022. Its preferred option includes three new roundabouts and indicates the Pizza King building would be removed to help make way for the roundabout at 16th Street. While the planned roundabout appears to be a sure thing, whether the Pizza King building must be razed to make way for it probably won’t be certain for another year.
“I’m in kind of a wait-and-see mode,” said Mach, who leases the restaurant building. “We would want to stay in this part of town” if he does have to find a new location, as that’s where his customer base is.
“Ideally, we’d buy a building and remodel it or build a new one,” Mach said. While the Pizza King doesn’t have indoor dining, Mach said he might consider limited indoor dining, but probably without waiters or waitresses, at a new location. It would be nice to be in a slightly larger building and one that has a better kitchen layout, he said.
The local Pizza King was opened by Lee Engelmen and Dean Sosnoski in December 1975, in the remodeled former location of a Sinclair gas station. Since Mach bought the La Crosse business in 1978 – at the age of 18 – he has added on to the building once and remodeled it twice.
There are several other Pizza King locations, in the Appleton and Oshkosh areas, but Mach owns only the La Crosse restaurant.
The local Pizza King originally sold only fresh unbaked pizzas that customers took home and baked themselves. The restaurant installed pizza ovens about five years later so it could offer baked pizzas as well.
After another five years, the local Pizza King began opening for lunch and introduced its popular submarine sandwiches. With those moves, its business doubled overnight, Mach said.
Pizzas still account for about three-fourths of Pizza King’s sales, Mach said. And unbaked pizzas represent about half of its pizza sales.
Sausage and pepperoni probably is the local Pizza King’s biggest-selling pizza variety, Mach said. Its most popular specialty pizza is the King Special, made with Italian sausage or beef, pepperoni, onions, green peppers, green or black olives, fresh or canned mushrooms, and mozzarella cheese.
Some of Pizza King’s most popular submarine sandwiches are the turkey breast, ham and cheddar cheese sub, the grilled chicken and Swiss cheese sub, and the grilled chicken and bacon sub.
Pizza King’s gyros sandwiches also are popular, Mach said.
“The pizza business is very competitive,” Mach said, adding that he also is competing with fast-food restaurants for lunch business.
His pizza place has succeeded for more than four decades because “We just keep doing what we do, offering a quality product with more toppings,” he said.
The keys to Pizza King’s success have been consistency, superior service and a quality product for a good price, Mach said. Customers want a particular menu item to taste the same every time they order it, he added.
Mach said he most enjoys “Interacting with customers and getting good feedback from them. That’s always nice to hear.”
Pizza King has 14 employees, including Mach and his brother, Steve. That number also includes Terry’s sons Ken, Allan and Ray, who work at the business part time. Another employee, store manager Jim Rady, has worked there for 27 years.