Portland family makes 50 years of pizza and fun

Did you know “Izzy” is a real person? You’ll meet her, and her son, as they share why their family loves to make the pizza that makes people smile‚

Izzy Covalt and her son Jim, looking at the newly-hung photo mural depicting their family’s five-decade romance with pizza, at the Eastport Plaza Izzy’s Pizza Bar & Classic Buffet restaurant.

Story and photo by David F. Ashton
As diners enjoy great pizza, specialty smoked delights, or crisp, cool salads from the buffet tables at an Izzy’s Pizza Bar & Classic Buffet restaurant, they may wonder, “Is there really an ‘Izzy’ behind this”?

Yes there is! Meet Isabel “Izzy” Covalt, matriarch of the “first family of Pizza” in Portland‚ and throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Pizza before pizza parlors
“Fifty years ago, here in Portland, the only places serving pizza were Italian restaurants, as part of their fare,” she began.

“My husband, Jim Covalt, hadn’t finished college yet. He was in school. I was doing some part time nursing. Someone told him about his new pizza place that was being built on SE Foster Road. They were looking for someone to tend bar. He hadn’t been around alcohol; it didn’t appeal to him.

“He called my mother, herself a teetotaler, and asked her about it. ‘Jim, a job is a job’, she told him.”

‘Shakey’ job leads to career
Her husband got the job. The restaurant was called Shakey’s Pizza — founded Sacramento, California, in 1954. When the Portland restaurant opened, in Portland, Jim Covolt was their bartender. He soon learned the business, and became an assistant manager.

It looked like such a good business that the Covalts introduced the owners to the concept of franchising. “There weren’t franchises back then,” Izzy told us.

With funding provided by friends, and Izzy’s parents, the Covalts opened their first Shakey’s Pizza store in 1958. But, they had to move to Albany to do it‚ the company didn’t want franchise stores competing with them in Portland.

“We opened and operated franchises throughout mid- and southern Oregon, and in Montana,” Izzy recalled.

Says “goodbye” to franchise holder
The franchising company was sold to one conglomerate after another. “One of them was the Hunt Brothers‚ the Texas twosome who tried to corner the silver market,” Izzy said. “They kept losing ground.”

Izzy said that her husband died in 1978. “And, our franchise was up for renewal. We were their first franchisors, and had 19 years with them. But they wanted to change the terms. I decided to go on my own.

“We could have opened other kinds of restaurants, but it never entered my head. I never expected to go into the restaurant business when I was young. But, I found I like working with people and food.”

The first Izzy’s Pizza store was in Albany, and then they opened restaurants in Corvallis, Eugene, Bend, and Springfield. “We opened Izzy’s in Gresham in 1985. Jim (Junior) and David Covalt ran that operation.”

Innovation is difference between restaurants
Some of the Izzy’s Pizza Bar & Classic Buffet restaurants are still owned by members of the Covalt family; others are franchised.

Jim Covalt Jr. owns the Eastport Plaza location. “I’m creating a buffet that doesn’t serve typical buffet food. We have the freshest food possible. We’ve brought live music back to our restaurant.”

He told us he’s still coming up with new ideas at his restaurant, much like his father did. “My dad was the first person to put sliced tomatoes on Canadian bacon pizzas. He also threw on some pineapple. His friends thought it was delicious. But because the new recipes strayed from the set menu, the franchise almost closed him down for serving them.”

Jim Covalt Jr. owns this restaurant. “I’m hanging my hat here at Eastport Plaza.”

Most important to Jim Jr. is his approach with customers. “I think Shakey had the right idea: good food, beer, music, and having fun. It is working. More and more people are coming in. When they come to Eastport, they realize there is a difference between restaurants.”

Jim Covalt is also an active member in the community; he’s a member of the East Portland Chamber of Commerce, and hosts activities at his restaurant. He’s also involved with the 82nd Ave. of Roses Business Association.

“I’m hanging my hat here at Eastport Plaza,” Jim told us in parting. “Come in and see what’s new here.”

To learn more about Oregon’s “first family of pizza”, read Izzy Covalt’s book, “My Name is Izzy”. It’s available at www.Amazon.com.

To visit the Eastport Plaza web page‚ click HERE, or see www.izzyspizza.com.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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