Duane Estrem was a route manager for Pepsi back in 1963 when he landed an account with Tasty Pizza, a new pizzeria in Columbia Heights. It got him interested in the pizza business and he wound up working there.
"He thought that pizza was the future," said his son Todd.
It certainly was Estrem's future. After several months, he became a partner at Tasty, which is still going strong, now owned by Todd and his wife, Tawyna Estrem.
Despite its longevity, not everyone shared Duane Estrem's optimism about the business at first.
When he asked his family for money to buy a share of the restaurant, he got plenty of pushback. They thought pizza was a fad that wouldn't last a year. "My mother went nuts," Todd Estrem recalled. "She said, 'You can't even eat pizza.' "
Duane Estrem wasn't much of a pizza fan himself at the time — he would scrape off the toppings and just eat the crust, his son said. But after he got involved in the restaurant, he adjusted the recipe to his liking.
"I've been told that the pizza recipe was kind of a takeoff from Sammy's Pizza, which started in Hibbing," Todd said.
At Tasty, the traditional thin-crust pizzas are made from scratch, with homemade dough and sausage. "Everything is still done real old-school," said Todd Estrem.
In the early days, passersby could look through the front window and watch as the pizzas were being made.
Duane Estrem came into the picture after one of the two original partners sold his shares. In turn, Estrem brought on a friend and colleague from Pepsi, John Huff, who jokingly insisted that the pizzeria needed a mascot. So Duane Estrem became known as "Fat Man" (which he wasn't, but the nickname stuck).
Estrem and his business partner ran the restaurant until the 1980s, when Todd took over. Duane died in 1997, but Tasty bears his imprint in a way beyond the food: There's a bar called Hangar 45, which Todd added eight years ago, paying tribute to the fact that "my dad and I both had a love for flying. My dad was able to fly for a short period and owned a plane with his old partner Louie."
'Everyone knows Tasty'
Tony Rendle, who grew up in Columbia Heights and now lives in Minneapolis, has been going to Tasty Pizza for years. It's a "phenomenal local spot," he says. "Everyone knows Tasty."
The restaurant's work with local charities and fundraisers is one way it's "such a part of the community," Rendle said.
Columbia Heights Mayor Gary Peterson first started going there in 1968 for meetings with the Columbia Heights Athletic Club Boosters. The restaurant always hosted the boosters' main fundraiser, which included a big spaghetti dinner.
Tasty always hired lots of students, too, including some who went on to open their own pizzerias. One who worked there was Todd Estrem, though his tenure went back further. He remembers chopping onions and rolling dough as a young kid, and he was a manager while in high school, working full-time hours. "I was motivated by money. I liked my cars. I had two car payments in high school," he said.
Today, the Estrems' daughter, Allee, 17, also works at the restaurant.
Todd Estrem has expanded the place a couple of times since taking over, and, altogether, its capacity has gone from 50 to 200 over the years.
What is the restaurant's recipe for longevity? "You need a lot of things, like good employees. I've been lucky. I've had a lot of good ones. Some have worked over 20 years with me," Todd Estrem said.
Today, Tasty has more than 50 employees, he says.
Mayor Peterson has always admired the way the place operates. Duane Estrem "had a big heart" and that continues with the family today, he said.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.