Since 1976, Organ Piper Pizza restaurant and music palace in Greenfield has served hundreds of people of all different ages. Once a part of a 40 restaurant network of musical restaurants, it’s now only one of three in the nation.
The secret to successfully staying in business for so many years? Owner Derek Paikowski says it’s all owed to the balance of good food, great musicians and a classic family friendly environment.
“Back in the ’70s and ’80s there was I think 30 or 40 of these style restaurants in the United States,” said Paikowski. “From what I know it’s now just this one and one in Mesa, Arizona.” There is also a similar restaurant, Beggars Pizza, in Lansing, Ilinois.
Paikowski has been part owner of the restaurant since 1989 and is now the only owner. He’s slowly but surely been revamping the restaurant to keep its original look.
“People really like the old pictures and that older authentic feel,” Paikowski said. “So we’re just going to freshen it up a bit with new paint, better floors and we just re-did the chairs. We’re not looking to modernize it, just fix it up a little.”
To this day the Organ Piper still uses their original numbers system where customers go to the front counter to order their food and are given a number. When their order is ready a bingo-like number board will light up with their number for them to pick up at the counter.
“It’s something that was real popular back in the 70s and 80s, it’s a system that works and luckily we haven’t had many screw ups with it. And it’s nice because you don’t have to leave a tip for a waitress since there aren’t any. You can leave a tip at the front counter if you want but it’s not mandatory,” said Paikowski.
Aside from their classic look, Organ Piper keeps a steady customer flow by offering fresh ingredients in their food. Fifty pounds of dough is used every weekday to make their pizza, and twice that amount is used on weekends.
According to Paikowski, he and the cooks use healthier options like extra virgin olive oil, instead of peanut oil to cook. Other food options include sandwiches and appetizers, but pizza is the main attraction.
“I think a lot of our success has to do with the food, we use good product and don’t skimp on ingredients and people appreciate that,” said Paikowski.
Organ Piper doesn’t just have any regular organ for their musicians to play. The restaurant is home to a 1929 full orchestra Wurlitzer theater pipe organ that used to be in the Milwaukee Avalon Theater.
At first glance it looks like a run-of-the-mill instrument, but looking beyond the console one can see there are a several pipes and pieces that makes the Wurlitzer one of a kind.
Organist Zach Frame from Lake Geneva does most of the maintenance on the massive instrument to keep it in pristine condition.
“I’m constantly trying to restore it, rebuild it and improve it,” said Frame. “The organ is a lot older than the restaurant itself and the base was restored in 1989 into 1990, the instrument is made of several pieces from the 1920s, so the organ is coming up on 100 years old. It’s a quite a bit of work to make sure we’re able to play day in and day out.”
Frame is one of the two full-time musicians Organ Piper has on staff. There is also a substitute organist. Dean Rosko, who’s the organist for the Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Admirals, fills in for Frame and fellow organist Perry Petta.
“My family found the Organ Piper when I was about five and became regulars shortly after,” said Frame. “It’s sometimes a little surreal that I now work here”
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Frame has been playing the organ for the majority of his life and played in school bands up until high school. His parents also play the organ, which he says sparked his interest early on in life. He began playing at the Organ Piper Palace in 2010 as a substitute and was hired as a full-time organist shortly after in 2011.
“I’m very lucky to be a fairly younger person that plays the theater pipe organ for a living,” said Frame. “Very few people are able to do that every day. Many of the others play as a side job and I’m lucky that I can work five days a week playing the organ.”
Guests can request any song to be played for them during dinner. Frame says that’s one of the hardest parts of his job since people can virtually ask for any piece of music that has been written over the past hundred years or more.
“I don’t get a lot of requests for classical music but on occasion people do,” said Frame. “Then someone else will ask for something that came out last week, a pop tune or movie score or whatever it might be. I spend time practicing on things I see are mostly requested so I’m prepared.”
Organ Piper Pizza won the award for Milwaukee’s most kid-friendly restaurant in 2011 and best family-friendly restaurant in 2017.
Paikowski said he hopes to keep families coming back for another 40-plus years.
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