The Pie Underground: Over 40 Years of Feeding Students

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Amen Koutowogbe

The Pie Pizzeria near by the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah on Aug. 16, 2022. (Photo by Amen Koutowogbe | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Luke Jackson, Arts Writer

 

Food is an integral part of the college experience. In these years of wandering, we each truly learn who we are in our relationship with food. Some gravitate towards top ramen on a hot plate where others find their passion for whipping up extravagant feasts. Some even find a happy medium as they add crushed-up hot Cheetos to their Annie’s bunny noodles. Those lucky few who pass through the University of Utah, however, have something that binds them jointly. Regardless of palate or position, a supernatural force ties all of us together. That force is none other than The Pie Pizzeria.

40 Years of Pizza History

The Pie Underground, located just steps from President’s Circle, has been serving pizza to students and the larger U community for over 40 years. The building itself has been a pizza joint since 1965 when it was known as Bimbos. After 15 years, the Palmer family took residence and transformed Bimbos into the place we know and love today.

Seeing how The Pie has expanded in these 40 years, it came as a bit of a surprise to me that the business was still family-owned and operated. The truth is, everywhere you look in Salt Lake City, you’ll find the classic white pizza box with the iconic red symbol.

That’s My Place

“You don’t get through the University of Utah without going to The Pie,” said Brian Horman, The Pie’s regional manager.

We sat across from each other in The Pie Underground. Our table, the closest one to the kitchen, has seen its fair share of soda spills and grease stains. Endless neon signs illuminate the black brick graffitied walls with the names of students, staff and pizza enthusiasts.

Just as we began talking, a worker placed a delicious-looking pizza between Horman and me. Horman reached up his hand to the worker and said, “The fresh basil as well,” reminding the worker, who quickly whisked the pizza back into the kitchen. A pizza perfectionist, Horman wanted me to get the full experience.

“This is The Pie’s twist on a margherita pizza,” Horman said as the pizza was placed in front of us. “The Pie’s been making it since the ’80s. We call it ‘The Italian Special.’ Thin crust, light cheese, light pizza sauce with fresh basil.”

Under the green flakes of basil we found crisp, perfectly rounded pepperonis. “You told me you like pepperoni, so I made sure they added some,” Horman said.

While this genuine act of kindness was not an extravagant one, it’s the reason why Horman is the regional manager. It’s the reason why he’s been with The Pie since 2003. Furthermore, I think it’s the reason The Pie has been such a longstanding member of the community. It’s a family-operated establishment that makes an endless effort to make you feel like you’re one of their own.

“Not only did I eat here as a student, but I worked as a student as well,” Horman said. “We want to create a place where students come and really feel like they can say: ‘That’s my place.’ Being a cool college hangout is what built us.”

As cliché as it sounds, I really did feel like The Pie Underground was a cool college hangout. It knows exactly what it is and doesn’t try to be anything else. As you descend the stairs to its front door, you immediately know that this is an unapologetic local institution.

You don’t get through the University of Utah without going to The Pie ”

— Brian Horman

Tastes Like College

With six locations across Utah, The Pie Underground is the only location that doesn’t deliver. This space is reserved specifically for a dine-in experience. By keeping The Underground as a dine-in only restaurant, the history of the building is preserved. The way you got a pizza in 1982 is the same way you’re getting a pizza today.

“While The Pie has expanded, the business remains the exact same,” Horman said. “We took what we learned at The Underground and recreated that feeling at other locations.”

Even though The Pie has undoubtedly evolved with the times, its history is palpable. The Pie is a true local spot that doesn’t just feed the community, but it’s also part of the community. They keep people coming because they are real people who genuinely care that you are eating with them.

As I left, Horman made sure to shake my hand and send me off with two pizza boxes of leftovers. As I walked up the iconic stairs, I returned to the real world full and happy.

“If there are good feelings, good memories, you’ll have customers for forever,” Horman said, just before we wrapped up.

If I wasn’t a pie-head before, I definitely am one now. It may not be the best pizza in the world, but it tastes like college, and I imagine it will forever.

 

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@__lukejackson