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As J.D. Varner, Indiana University of Pennsylvania class president of 1957 and former Indiana mayor, sat on the new porch of the revitalized Pizza House on Oakland Avenue, he remembered with his wife, Daria, back to the late 1950s when they would grab a bite to eat at the old Pizza House after classes.
“It was almost a customary place; we’d stop in, get pizza, visit with friends, have a little fellowship,” Varner said.
Daria, who was class secretary, added that it was where sororities would have their meetings.
Now, Pizza House is under new ownership and has been brought into the 21st century by local business owner Tom Zaucha.
Zaucha has expanded the Pizza House’s menu considerably, adding three more soups to be served daily and increasing sandwich and salad options.
The largest addition is the Dog House, an attached gourmet hot dog shop. The menu features dog-named hot dogs, such as the Abbie Dog (cheese, bacon, onion and mustard), the Sammie Dog (chili, cheese and onion) and the Sparky Dog (jalapeños, chili, onion and cheese). The Dog House also offers homemade french fries, coleslaw and potato salad.
Zaucha takes inspiration for the Dog House from The Original Hot Dog Shop, Inc., located near the University of Pittsburgh.
Pizza House and the Dog House share a retro ‘60s decor, inspired by Zaucha’s wife, Alice. John Wayne shares the wall with the Rat Pack and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in a tribute to the pop culture of yore.
Zaucha recruited Hideaway Cable of Homer City, Pa., to install high-definition televisions and an audio system for the interior and exterior of the restaurant.
Catering to Pittsburgh fans, Pizza House and the Dog House plan to always play Steelers, Pirates and Penguins games and coordinate specials with the various playoff seasons.
Amidst the renovations, former owner John Dsiris has been helping Zaucha with the transition in the kitchen. Dsiris had owned Pizza House since 1972 and is using his wealth of experience to help give customers what they want.
Zaucha is no stranger to owning a local business, either. He founded Keystone Rehabilitation Systems, which grew to 75 facilities before he sold it, and has also owned a neurodiagnostic company and student rental housing.
So why a pizza place?
“I was looking for something to have a little fun with,” Zaucha said.
No one can deny Zaucha is having fun. His face lights up as he greets customers, and with a smile he sends his grandchildren, garbed in Pizza House smocks, to run food to the tables.
This is a family endeavor for the Zauchas. Tom is supported by his wife, Alice, and his daughter-in-law Nicole, who has been working with Vision Light Media to bolster the Pizza House’s branding and social media presence. Nicole’s husband, Tom Zaucha Jr., manages the Dog House. Even grandchildren Hanna, 10; John, 13; Abbie, 5; and Hailey, 8, lend helping hands.
Pizza House may not look the same as when the Varners would grab a slice in the ‘50s, but it has kept local support.
“Without the IUP community; without students, faculty and staff, I don’t think this restaurant makes it,” Zaucha said.