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Artista Pizza Kitchen

Artista Pizza Kitchen was started in 1958 by a telephone lineman named Walter who wanted to go into business for himself. With the help of United Bakery on St. Bernard Ave. in creating a dough recipe, he rented a small space in the front corner of a movie theater building on Franklin Avenue, and began what would spawn three more restaurants, four if you count the one a former employee opened down in St. Bernard Parish. In six months time, the pizzeria was profitable enough for Walter to make it his full-time vocation.

The small dining area held no more than probably ten tables, maybe one more if not for the jukebox against the rear wall. The kitchen was visible through a large plate glass window, so diners could watch their pizzas being made.

The pizza was of the hand-thrown, thin crust style, and offered in two sizes, 12" (six slices) and 16" (8 slices). Toppings were the standard fare: cheese, mushrooms, onion, bell pepper, black or green olives, sausage, ground beef, pepperoni and Canadian bacon.

Besides pizza, two salads were available: an Italian tossed (iceberg lettuce, tomato, pepperoncini) and a lettuce with artichoke hearts, both dressed exclusively with a house-made, garlicky vinaigrette.

Fountain soft drinks and draught beer (by the glass or by the pitcher) completed the menu.

In 1965, the operation was expanded and Tower of Pizza was opened on Downman Road in eastern New Orleans, followed in 1971 by Dino's on Veterans Boulevard in Metairie. After a fourth iteration was opened on Williams Blvd. in Kenner, it was suggested the three expansion outlets all be rebranded under the Tower of Pizza moniker, ostensibly to save money on advertising and pizza box printing.

A cousin bought Artista from Walter in 1973, and operated it until 1986, after the closure of the movie theater and the decline of the neighborhood in general made it no longer profitable.

Today, only the former Dino's in Metairie remains as Tower of Pizza, still operated by Walter's son, Walter, Jr. It retains the same 1970s decor it's always had: dark wood paneling and red & white checkered table cloths. And not one but two large windows through which to view the pizza making. And the original Artista menu. If it ain't broke...

Artista Pizza Kitchen: Pizza, 2941 Franklin Ave, New Orleans (Gentilly) - 947-9385 (do not call) map

Tower of Pizza: Pizza, 2104 Veterans Blvd, Metairie (Metairie Below Causeway) map - (504)833-9373

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