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Columbia's iconic pizza joint celebrates 50 years of serving slices

A crowd of people are walking around a stage in the middle of a street. On the back of the stage is a sign that says "Shakespeare's 50" in green font.
Kaylin Hellyer
Shakespeare's Pizza celebrated its 50th anniversary at its downtown Columbia location from 4 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. Attendees included pizza and pickle beer lovers as well as Columbia Mayor Barbara Buffaloe.

On the corner of Ninth and Elm St. in downtown Columbia, pizza lovers lined up outside of the downtownShakespeare's Pizza location to grab their free slice.

A lineup of bands, too, both local and out-of-town, played for a crowd starting at 4:30 p.m. A variety of local nonprofit charities lined the street.

They were all there to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Shakespeare's Pizza.

For the restaurant's birthday, Columbia Mayor Barbara Buffaloe announced Sept. 23, 2023 as the official Shakespeare’s Pizza day.

Orange and white street signs say "Road Closed." There is a Shakespeare's pizza van parked horizontally behind the signs.
Kaylin Hellyer
The streets of downtown Columbia were closed down for the celebration for most of the afternoon and evening to make space for walkers, performers and Shakespeare's memorabilia.

The restaurant and University of Missouri staple is celebrating fifty years of serving pizza to students, visitors and Columbia residents like Steven and Joan Mudrick. They’ve been in Columbia for almost as long as the pizza joint.

The couple sat on a ledge enjoying their free slices of pizza.

"We’ve been coming to Shakespeare’s off and on for quite a while," Steven Mudrick said.

The couple even knows someone who came from out of state for the food.

"[We've been] meeting friends from Fargo, North Dakota to eat at Shakespeare’s," Joan Mudrick added.

Shakespeare’s Pizza first opened its doors near MU in 1973.

According to its website, the first twelve-inch pie cost around twelve cents. About 37 years later, it was named the Best College Hangout in America by Good Morning America.

People look at signs painted green with years written on them. They say 2013-2022, 2003-2012 and earlier years. It's a timeline of Shakespeare's Pizza.
Kaylin Hellyer
People look at the life-sized Shakespeare's Pizza timeline outside the restaurant on Saturday, Sept. 23. The timeline covered 50 years of Shakespeare's Pizza in Missouri.

“For us, it's four walls and some floors," said Kurt Mirtsching, Shakespeare's owner. "We have to mop, and pepperonis we got to chop up and we keep doing the same thing every day. And then these wonderful customers come down here from all over Columbia and out of town and whatnot. And they walk up to us with these big five gallon buckets of love and dump them all over us.”

Shakespeare's employees stood at a table right outside the restaurant and served up cheese and pepperoni slices in exchange for a voucher everyone received at the entrance.

Others opted to head inside the restaurant to order their own pizza or a refreshing beverage for the warm afternoon.

Shakespeare’s Pizza holds a lot of memories for members of the community that includes everything from birthdays and the famous Shakespeare’s beverage.

"I came here for my birthday, my 21st and that's where I had my first pickle beer,” Olivia Amos said.

A full pizza is on a counter. Half is cheese and the other half is veggie. There are other pizzas in the background.
Kaylin Hellyer
Shakespeare's Pizza offers more than 20 different toppings. They also offer salads and other snacks, including a pickle in a beer.

People also remember Shakespeare's alongside their favorite MU traditions.

“When I was a kid, we used to come for homecoming, and we used to eat Shakespeare's the night before the parade," Halley Blades said. "And then we would sit outside of Shakespeare's to watch the parade.”

Shakespeare’s ‘Version 2’ came to downtown Columbia in 2015 when the original was demolished for an apartment building. The remodel stayed true to the original location, but gave a modern flair to the iconic pizza joint, while still keeping in touch with its quirks — like keeping its exposed brick walls, green metal ceiling and a variety of vintage signs from all over the country.

A person is topping a pizza crust with cheese, pineapples and ham.
Kaylin Hellyer
Hawaiian pizza may be a controversial topic online, but Shakespeare's doesn't fear the criticism for putting pineapple on a pizza.

Owner Kurt Mirtsching said he is thankful to everyone who has contributed to Shakespeare’s legacy.

“Columbia has given Shakespeare's so much support and love over the years," he said.

And at their 50th Birthday Bash, Shakespeare's gave back to the community as well.

Melody Whitworth with Unchained Melodies Dog Rescue, one of the many benefactors in attendance, said the celebration, "gave us the opportunity to get our name out to a totally different group of members of the community."

The celebration unfortunately was cut short due to unforeseen weather. But attendees were hopeful for years to come.

"I hope they have another one on their 100th, that would be nice," Steven Mudrick said.

Kaylin Hellyer is a senior at the University of Missouri School of Journalism studying cross-platform editing and producing and minoring in history. She has been a reporter and afternoon newscast anchor with KBIA, and is currently an afternoon newscast producer.
Kassidy Arena was the Engagement Producer for KBIA from 2022-2023. In her role, she reported and produced stories highlighting underrepresented communities, focused on community outreach and promoting media literacy. She was born in Berkeley, California, raised in Omaha, Nebraska and graduated with a degree in Journalism at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
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