Richard Warner, D.D.S.
Warner Family Dentistry in Council Bluffs
Richard Warner, D.D.S. Family Dentistry in Council Bluffs, Iowa
(Story by Dr. Richard Warner and Karen DeForest)
Remembering Your First Pizza... and Taco
Odds are you remember right where you were when you first learned of the Kennedy assassination or that Elvis had died. We likewise recall our first car and our first love. But do you remember your first pizza or taco? Probably not, but these staples of the daily diet weren’t all that common in the metro area until not that long ago.
Pizza in one form or another dates from ancient times but never made much of an impact in the United States until after World War II when GI’s brought back a taste for the dish from overseas. Pizza then began appearing on restaurant menus, particularly on the east coast. By the mid to late 1950s “pizza joints” started to pop up in college towns and became something of a fad for young people.
The Midwest wasn’t so quick to adopt the trend; through the 50s local teens preferred a hamburger and shake. The first Council Bluffs establishment to devote itself primarily to the new food was Pizza Pantry at 3107 West Broadway in 1959. Cookies Pizza Palace popped up a short time later at 2915 West Broadway. Pizza King brought the dish downtown in the mid 1960s.
Pizza was beginning to catch on but was still a niche market until the late 1960s when the national chains came to the metro area complete with expensive marketing campaigns. Shakey’s, which originated in Sacramento and in what would be considered rather insensitive today was named for the tremor of co-owner Sherwood Johnson, advertised heavily on television. Pizza Hut arrived in Council Bluffs in late 1967 with a restaurant on West Broadway and one on East Pierce the next year. Pizza Hut promoted itself to kids via radio and print ad campaigns. By the time Clinton, Iowa native William Theisen founded Godfathers in Omaha in 1973 and Council Bluffs opened its branch in 1976 pizza was a mainstream food, well on its way to becoming as American as hamburger and fries. Pizza King relocated to Oak Street and Broadway when their downtown location was claimed by urban renewal in 1973. Despite the arrival of the pizza chain restaurants, Pizza King continued to grow in stature as a local icon. Indeed a photo of the restaurant on the Historical Society’s Facebook page "Council Bluffs Revealed" has drawn some of the most passionate positive comments of any post ever, many saying how it was their very first pizza and remains yet today a delicacy and a tradition.
One would have been hard pressed to find a taco in Council Bluffs, or even anyone who knew what one was, until the 1960s. Ricardo Correa, Jr. began making tortilla and taco shells in the back of his father’s West Broadway restaurant and expanded into his own business. In a 1963 interview he acknowledged there wasn’t all that much of a demand for his product, but explained, “Liking Mexican food is simply a matter of education. People try Mexican food once, then they crave it.” Correa created awareness for tacos by giving out free samples in grocery stores, admitting that the slightly hotter taste caused some customers to rush for the water cooler or even spit it out on the spot in surprise.
Taco House at 1604 South 11th Street became the city’s first eatery specializing in the dish. Cosmos Drive-in, which took over the Tiner’s location at 34th and West Broadway, added tacos to the menu in 1965, but they cost a quarter, significantly pricier than the fifteen cent going rate for a fast food hamburger at that time. Ricardo’s Restaurant opened at 146 West Broadway in 1960 with a menu of Mexican foods. As with pizza, the transition of the taco from ethnic to mainstream got a push from the fast food industry and its advertising. The Midwestern fast food taco business came out of Wichita. Michael Foley had never heard of a taco, but saw potential for the food when he sampled his first one in San Diego in the 1950s. He started the Taco Grande chain, which took over the short lived Taco Sierra at 2730 West Broadway in 1968. Taco Bell opened its first restaurant in Council Bluffs in 1972 on East Broadway; Taco John’s arrived at 2300 West Broadway a short time later.
Those living outside the metro area had to wait a little longer for the new cuisine to arrive. Pizza Hut aggressively expanded into the outlying towns in the 1970s, bringing not only pizza but the era of franchised restaurants to the smaller communities of southwest Iowa. The penetration of tacos lagged a bit longer.
What were uncommon foods just a generation back have become quite the norm. Americans today consume over 3 billion pizzas and almost 5 billion tacos annually.
Pizza King started in the 100 block before moving to 212 West Broadway and adding “Club 212” to their name. The restaurant relocated to the new wing of the former St. Patrick’s School when their downtown location was razed for urban renewal in 1973.
Ricardo’s Restaurant started in the 100 block in 1960, closed, and reopened in 1966, offering everyone a free taco for their grand reopening. The photo was taken at the Labor Day parade in 1969.
Taco Sierra opened in 1967 at 2730 West Broadway; it became part of the Wichita based Taco Grande chain the next year.