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Back and Forth: Shakey's Pizza was the place to be

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He was a Rochester mayor and City Council member, but Chuck Canfield will always be best-known as a purveyor of outstanding pizza and good times at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor in Rochester. Canfield died last year at age 84
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He went from General Motors to Pizza to City Council to Rochester Mayor. He's Chuck Canfield, now retired with a lifetime of memories promoting the sales of Oldsmobile cars to standing behind the Shakey's buffet line.

It's been a great life watching his own four kids grow up, all taking part in the Pizza business during those growing years.

I first met Chuck Canfield during a two-hour KROC remote broadcast from Stone Oldsmobile, 705 S. Broadway in Rochester in the autumn of 1960. Chuck was regional manager for General Motors in Chicago and was in Rochester to promote the 1961 new car showing. That day was filled with a big showing of their new line at Mayo Civic Auditorium. The public was invited in for refreshments and a dance in the evening to the music of the Six Fat Dutchmen from New Ulm. Canfield remained with GM for 13 years, but tired of being on the road.

"I told him I needed to settle down in one place," he told me. "After a time in St. Cloud, St. Paul and Minneapolis, I ended the auto business."

While in Minneapolis in the mid-1960s, Chuck and his wife, Gloria, got caught up in the Shakey's Pizza business. Chuck learned the business and opened Rochester's Shakey's Pizza Parlor in early March 1968. From a Post-Bulletin article dated March 8, 1968, a photo of the new business shows Canfield, manager and principal stockholder of the corporation that owns the business under a franchise. William Magnuson was a pastry chef, and Larry Olson, assistant manager. The big dining room seated 250. A smaller room for those under 21 seated 50.

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What made Shakey's Pizza Parlor and Buffet such a hit? Probably because the place catered to kids' birthday parties and because of the buffet line, where business people were found having their noon and evening meals. Forty-five years ago, our city wasn't loaded with the pizza restaurants and convenience stores we have today. Shakey's was on the frontage road near the 19th street overpass crossing U.S. Highway 52 North, so it was very accessible.

"We had music" Chuck said. "John Bertling was our first piano player. We had banjo players, Lowell and daughter Debbie Shreyer and others."

More than 1,000 people attended the opening night.

A later column, undated, from a Twin Cities paper talked of the decline of Shakey's, which once had 17 franchises in Minnesota. Despite competition from Dominoes and Pizza Hut, the Rochester Shakey's was still going strong with its buffet and salad bar.

"We had a great business," said the 81-year-old Canfield. "But we had to close as the Minnesota Highway Department worked that whole area into a new series of twists and turns. I would like to have relocated but had second thoughts, having spent 10 years on Rochester's City Council and Mayor from 1995 until autumn 2002, it was time to let go after 35 great years. We saw second-generation families coming back at closing time after seeing them as young folks in the late 1960s and early '70s."

At the time Shakey's opened in Rochester it was one of 342 Shakey's restaurants nationwide, serving pizza and 3.2 beer.

There are "hardly any Shakey's anywhere now, but my daughter did see one in the western United States recently," Chuck told me. For the thousands who grew up with Shakey's Pizza Parlor and Buffet at 1816 Highway 52 North in Rochester, you were part of Shakey's Pizza history.

Next week — Old bakeries remembered by Frank Lebeck.

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Harley Flathers is a longtime Rochester-area broadcaster and historian. Got a comment for Harley? Send it to news@postbulletin.com or to Harley at Post-Bulletin, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903.

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