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New Operators Seek Slice Of Burgeoning North Idaho Pizza Market

Here’s an easy one. Open your telephone book yellow pages to “pizza.”

Surprised to see about 40 listings for North Idaho? Don’t be. There’s a reason pizza places are so prolific. We eat a lot of pizza.

I called what I guessed to be about the 10 highest volume pizza shops. Most agree that Friday is the biggest sales day, and most sold more than 250 pizzas on Friday. If you figure the top 10 stores sell about 250 each, that’s 2,500 pizzas.

Then you add the 30 smaller shops; let’s be very modest and say they sold about 100 pizzas each. That’s 3,000 more, so we’re up to 5,500 pizzas sold in North Idaho in one day, and that doesn’t include the restaurants that aren’t in the yellow pages under pizza. No doubt we’re talking 6,000 pizzas in one day.

That’s a lot of dough, folks. Pun intended. Let’s take an average price of maybe $10 a pizza times 6,000 pizzas. Wow! We’re talkin’ 60,000 pizza dollars in one night.

Among the busiest stores is the Pizza Hut near Silver Lake Mall. It sells up to 500 pizzas on a Friday, making it Pizza Hut’s busiest store in the Northwest.

Some of the other leading stores were reluctant to give me numbers. One feared possible robbery when the money-word got out. Another owner thought other pizza wannabees would come swipe his secrets.

The bottom line? Yes, there’s money to be made in pizza, especially if you can establish a market niche.

New owners hoping they might grab a piece of the pie include George and Nelda House and Larry and Marlene Martens of Coeur d’Alene. The families bought the Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls’ Papa Murphy’s respectively. The stores sell pizza, calzone and lasagna.

We all know East Sherman isn’t the busiest street in town, but the amount of pizza that goes over the counter in the House’s take-and-bake operation is amazing. Last week the store set a house record of 223 pizzas. The Martens’ store on busier Seltice Way sold 342 on a recent Friday.

Originally from Texas, the Houses came to Coeur d’Alene in 1967. George resigned after 28 years as a teacher and librarian with the Coeur d’Alene School District, and Nelda is the gentle mistress of Noah’s Ark Preschool.

Coming from Libby, Mont., in 1986, the Martens earlier had the old Coeur d’Alene Drug and Gift in the old Coeur d’Alene Mall. Their daughter, Candi Moore, manages the Post Falls Papa Murphy’s.

Meanwhile five new Papa Murphy’s will open in Spokane by fall. Two will be owned by Rathdrum’s Bruce and Cheri Poole, previous owners of the Post Falls store, and one by Gary and B.J. Wolfe, who owned the Coeur d’Alene store. With its headquarters in Vancouver, Wash., Papa Murphy’s now has about 120 stores in Western states and soon expanding to Montana and Utah. A major portion of the business is through coupons and organization fund-raisers.

“Once people use a coupon and have Papa Murphy’s pizza,” they’ll be back, George House explained.

The Wolfes, originally from Spokane, a few years ago bought the old Rathskellar building. (Old-timers remember that “den of iniquity” from the ‘60s when the Idaho drinking age was 18 and the Rathskellar would attract all the teen-agers from neighboring states and provinces). They completely renovated the large building into eight business spaces, one of which is Houses’ Papa Murphy’s.

The Wolfes took the front location with their Hickory Hut store. Catering to families in a hurry and the ample motel traffic, the Wolfes sell cooked smoked ribs, sausage, chicken, pizza and calzone (the latter two are Papa Murphy’s products from through the joining window) and all the accessories.

Two attorneys have opened new offices in Coeur d’Alene.

Alyssa Swartz now shares offices with Steve Bell at 200 N. Fourth St., across from the Federal Building. An Idaho product via Post Falls, Lewis-Clark College and the University of Idaho, Swartz previously worked with the Bonner County Prosecutors’ Office, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office and the Bureau of Child Support Services.

Kevin Waite came from Wisconsin to a new general practice office at 2020 Lakewood Drive, Suite 302. He was graduated from Knox College in Illinois, served with the Peace Corps in Chad (Africa) and completed law school at the University of Wisconsin. He practiced law in Chicago and Wisconsin.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Nils Rosdahl The Spokesman-Review