Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Farewell to Five Mile Pizza: North Spokane restaurant closes after generations as a family business

Owner Steve Yunk, daughter Ashlee Yunk, and longtime employees Blake Kyle and Alicia Mesecher stand behind the bar on the last day of business at Five Mile Heights Pizza on Saturday, April 28, 2018, in north Spokane.  Yunk is retiring, but the location has been a neighborhood pizza restaurant since the 1970s. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Families have been coming to Five Mile Pizza on Spokane’s North Side for generations, but the beloved restaurant has shut its doors.

Owner Steve Yunk sat on a barstool Saturday, his last day of business, and reminisced about the business he’d been coming to since 1990.

He had dreamed of owning it for years. While he was earning a Master’s in Business Administration, he had to write a business plan for a class. He wrote it on Five Mile Pizza. His wife encouraged him to take the plunge, and he bought the iconic pizza and entertainment joint in 2013.

But now Yunk is getting older and his four children are getting older. One daughter is graduating from college and leaving, taking her fiancé and fellow Five Mile Pizza employee with her.

“You’ve pretty much got to be married to this job,” Yunk said.

The business is a family affair. His wife, who has a day job, works nights and weekends. His mother-in-law came out of retirement to work three days a week. But Yunk said the years of being everything from the janitor to the cook have worn on him.

As the time to renew his five-year lease approached, Yung debated selling the business, but the building owner bought out his lease instead. “We didn’t know it at the time, but Taco Bell is very interested in this,” he said.

Demolition of the building is expected to start this week and a new Taco Bell will be built in its place.

That’s something that doesn’t sit well with many of the regulars.

“We wish that they were keeping it open,” said Steve Hartsfield, who said he’s been coming to the restaurant for more than 30 years. “It’s a good family sports place.”

Adults could sip beer and eat pizza while children jumped in the ball pit and play arcade games. Hartsfield said that when he was in high school he, his brother, sister and brother-in-law all worked at the business.

“We could ride our bikes here when we were kids,” he said.

What has been bringing him back for decades is good service, a good taco pizza and a good bartender, who Hartsfield went to high school with.

“You always run into people you know,” he said.

Hartsfield said he has no idea where he will go instead. “I don’t know,” he said. “Who has taco pizza?”

Bartender Blake Kyle took a job at Five Mile Pizza while he was in college and never left.

“I kinda fell in love with the place,” he said. “It’s not work if you don’t feel like you’re working.”

Kyle said he has watched children grow up, leave and then come back with their own children. While he’s sad to see the business close, he understands Yunk’s decision.

“This place has just been great,” he said. “We had a good run. There’s not a person who came here that left without a good memory.”

Yunk was hoping to slip quietly out the door, but that was not to be. As word of the closure got out, people began flocking to the restaurant for one more visit and to say goodbye. Mondays are usually slow, but on the restaurant’s last Monday the building wasn’t big enough for all the customers.

“We were so busy, people were out the door,” he said. “It’s been that way since the second week of March.”

To Yunk’s surprise, people have also been bringing gifts – cards, balloons, even a bottle of Kentucky bourbon. “I’ve hugged more people in the last six weeks than the last 10 years,” he said. “It’s kind of humbling.”

People also wanted souvenirs, like autographed pizza plates and menus. On his last day in business Yunk was down to eight menus and had to go make copies to get through the day.

Yunk, who said he is 51 going on 70, plans to retire. Three of his children were adopted out of the foster care system, and Yunk said he wants to become a guardian ad litem for foster children.

“They have a tough job,” he said. “There’s a need for it. That’s what I want to do.”