Georgee’s Pizza, one of the few original, independently owned businesses on Foothill Boulevard, is saying farewell after 41 years in business.
The closure will make way for Fresh Brothers, a regional pizza chain, to set up shop where the “staple” restaurant currently sits.
George Jacobs, the owner of Georgee’s Pizza, was only 22 years old when he opened the establishment’s doors in 1980.
Jacobs quickly fostered a small-town spirit in Georgee’s Pizza that made customers feel at home, so much so that it was second nature for patrons to serve their own drinks from behind the counter and wander into the kitchen to talk to staff, before the Health Department put an end to the tradition — one of Jacobs’ fondest memories of the restaurant’s early years.
Other traditions included becoming a hub for video game aficionados that made it a popular place to hang out in the ’80s, with six arcade machines lining the wall. Some games included Asteroids and Space Invaders. Jacobs said the video games even outdid the pizza initially; however, that eventually shifted.
The atmosphere of Georgee’s Pizza was community-oriented with built-in trust.
“People could leave their kids here to play video games, knowing that I would watch over them like they were my own,” said Jacobs, who grew up in La Cañada Flintridge.
He said the loyalty of his customers and employees over the years made his time at Georgee’s rewarding.
“As soon as we opened the door in the morning, people came in,” Jacobs said. “We would have a line going out the door every day during lunch.”
Bill Stern, a longtime customer of Georgee’s, remembers frequenting the restaurant in the 1990s, which became his stomping ground for enjoying pizza and mozzarella sticks with his friends in high school. Later in life, it continued to be his go-to place to watch NFL games on Sundays and a routine lunch spot that he would visit at least once a week.
“The closing of Georgee’s is basically an end to an era,” Stern said. “It’s sad, but I totally understand and know that George is looking forward to retirement. Georgee’s has been a staple for so long in La Cañada; it’s bittersweet for it to come to an end. I’m going to miss the camaraderie, the people and certainly the food.”
Longtime employee Amy Weld started working at Georgee’s Pizza at 17 years old in 1990. She took a few years away from the business to raise her two children but eventually returned to her “little family” that formed at Georgee’s.
Weld said the closure wasn’t a total surprise when she heard the news.
“I was sad, but I knew it was coming,” Weld said. “George had been talking about retirement for years. I wish George the best in retirement; he deserves it. He put in a lot of time. He was there every day.”
Jacobs said his decision to retire and close Georgee’s is one that weighed on him over the past few years. Working nonstop for years without time off, a heart attack in 2018 and the eventual emergence of COVID-19 all played a role in his ultimate decision to close shop.
Jacobs, 63, is moving to Huntington Beach — a dream finally fulfilled.
“All I’ve done is work all of my life. Now it’s my time,” Jacobs said. “I’ve been searching for a beach house and when I found it, I told my wife, ‘If I don’t buy this place, I’m never going to retire. If I stay in La Cañada, I’ll never retire. I’m going to keep working until I die.’ So in a way, I forced myself to retire.”
He said if he could do it all over again, he would have closed the restaurant for two weeks a year for a dedicated vacation.
Some of Jacobs’ favorite memories of Georgee’s Pizza include his wife, Lynn, decorating the storefront windows for his birthday every 10 years; when his daughter, Michelle, was crowned as the 2001 Pasadena Tournament of Roses Queen and took photos outside the pizzeria in her gown; and the gathering of the community at the restaurant for Memorial Day during the Fiesta Days Parade.
“This was the spot,” Jacobs said. “Everyone would come here to watch the parade. We would do one day’s business in four hours and it always went well. Every year, that was something people looked forward to. This year was our last parade and everyone knew it was going to be our last hurrah. So that parade, even though the town wasn’t as full, it was just as busy as the previous ones.”
Jacobs said he loved seeing all of the people at Georgee’s Pizza, including famous faces like those of Jay Leno, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, Kevin Costner, Robert Horry and Collin Morikawa.
“I’m going to miss all the smiles, even though no one comes in with a smile because they’re wearing masks, so I’m going to try and forget this past year and a half and remember everybody’s smiling faces coming in — that I’m going to miss a lot,” Jacobs said.
Although some community members may not feel ready to see the local institution go, Jacobs said for him, this is the right time to start a new chapter in his life.
“I’m leaving on the top so if you compare that to a professional athlete, they hardly ever leave at the top of their game,” Jacobs said. “They retire on their way down, but I’m leaving at the top, and that’s something I’m proud of. I’m leaving a legacy here that will never be forgotten and there will never be a Georgee’s Pizza again. But I’m leaving that and it kind of makes me feel good that in 20 years, people will still remember Georgee’s Pizza.”