Jim Murphy & Sons

So you wannagetta pizza

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The latest installment of the "Hail to the Chefs" series.

If you’re trying to find Wannagetta PIZZA, it might help to invoke the TV sitcom Cheers (where everybody knows your name), or even the more spiritual movie, Field of Dreams (build it and they will come). This corner bistro is tucked away just off the Medical Mile of South National where you’re likely to see someone you know, or who knows you. Here there are no strangers for long, thanks to a brother, John; his sister, Sue, and her husband, Joe, who have created something much more than a pizza joint.

This month, Wannagetta PIZZA, 3302 S. National Avenue, Suite F, in the Kelly Plaza, celebrates its 10th year. Nothing formal is planned to celebrate because there’s nothing formal about this place, and not much that happens is very serious. Except the pizza and the attention to details, and the fact that one of the owners is always present.

At Wannagetta PIZZA, they are preparing to celebrate 10 years making pies.

At Wannagetta PIZZA, they are preparing to celebrate 10 years making pies. From left, John Huntley, Sue and Joe Gann, whose family ties add up to more than 50 combined years preparing food. John and Sue grew in their parents’ bakery. Joe is ready to retire a second time.

On a recent Monday, John Huntley was concocting a pizza while celebrating successful cataract surgery the previous Friday.

"I can’t believe I can actually see the grated cheese," he joked, not to mention a few more gray hairs than he knew about previously. Sue Huntley Gann and her husband, Joe Gann, were nearby chopping fresh ingredients as part of the six-day-a-week that is about to take a turn. They’re closed Sunday.

Joe Gann puts the finishing cross-hatch cuts on a pepperoni   pizza to go.

Joe Gann puts the finishing cross-hatch cuts on a pepperoni
pizza to go.

Joe just smiles when he thinks of retiring again in just a few days; the first time was after 34 years at Cummins Diesel. Now he’s heading for the golf course, woodworking and leaving the daily prep work to John and Sue. Not that he won’t be part of the scene.

"I still need to eat lunch and dinner," he says, smiling beneath the bill of his golf cap. "I just don’t need the long hours."

For a lot of other diners, this is home away from home along a stretch known as the Medical Mile because there are so many medical offices, related businesses and Cox Hospital. There are also hundreds of familiar faces, some of them longtime friends who remember Tiffany’s Bakery in the Battlefield Mall and the The Cheese Basket in Kimberling City, both owned by the Huntley family for two generations.

"Sue and I grew up in the bakery business," recalls John, who opened Wannagetta PIZZA in 2003 for lunch and dinner, but not for breakfast.

"No one needs to work that hard," he jokes, although starting the day with Lori’s Groovy Gravy Breakfast All-Day Pizza, sounds appetizing. The relatively new addition to the menu combines a deeper dish pie ladled with biscuits and gravy, ham, tomato and peppers, cheeses on a thicker version of the wheat crust.

Soon John was joined by Sue, who worked for years in banking but was game to try something both familiar and new. The three of them have more than 50 years in the restaurant business. One of them is always on duty.

What was familiar were the long hours and the chance to create something fresh and new. Sue’s contribution includes Sue’s Sassy Dressings, one of which goes into the Tuesday special, Famous Egg Salad Sandwich.

And friends, plenty of friends, who dine in, carry out, and occasionally carve out a corner for a birthday party or special occasion get-together. Around the dining room are Huntley’s photographs for sale and just enough bric-à-brac to give the place a familiar sense of having been here before. "Being in the medical area, we wanted a healthier alternative to some of the other pizzerias in town," says John, who rolls out fresh dough about a hundred times each day. Developing a dough that was healthy and that could stand up to a rolling pin was crucial. A combination of regular and whole wheat flower proved to be the answer, and now others have picked up on the notion of healthier dough and ingredients.

Besides thin wheat crust pizzas, they offer a variety of crisp salads, garlic-steamed veggies in a thin wheat bread bowl, appetizers, calzone, Stromboli, and a selection of toasty hot sandwiches that spend a few minutes in one of the two pizza ovens. The menu is online at wannagettapizza.com.

There’s also a selection of wines and bottled beers, including Mother’s Beer brewed in Springfield. For dessert, you can clabber up with the"Ooey Gooey Brownie," strawberry shortcake or apple and blackberry cobblers with ice cream if you like.

At top is a selection of Sassy Sue’s salad dressings. Below is the deep dish Lori’s Groovy Gravy Breakfast All-Day Pizza

But pizza is what it’s all about, baked on thin wheat crust that’s as crunchy as a cracker, and a healthy alternative to most pizza recipes. John has no actual evidence, but he does have anecdotal data: his cholesterol is off the charts on the low side after 10 years, and his doctor can’t believe it. Despite the long hours, he saves time for outdoor photography and has sold many of his photos, which hang framed on the wall. Last summer he was a winner in the Friends of the Garden Nature in the Park Photo Competition.

He’s very open about sharing his business savvy. So much so that JJS Restaurant Consulting was created to advise restaurant entrepreneurs on how to get started.

"It’s very similar to raising a child," he says, a willing adviser to anyone considering a life in the food business. They considered franchising, but opted for a one-time fee and just-in-time availability. John hopes to grow that side of the business.

"We would like to do more of that aspect, because we feel like we have a lot to offer," says Huntley. He acknowledges that Springfield is competitive, but is amazed at how many familiar restaurant names have come and gone.

His advice if you dream of owning a restaurant: "Work in one first to see if you even like it. If that’s not an option, there are some good culinary schools in the area, including Ozarks Technical College and College of the Ozarks. but college can’t teach you how to make a great pizza. Only making a pizza can teach you how to make a pizza."

Which is the point after all, and leads us to the newest tasty item on the Wannagetta Pizza menu.

Here are two popular recipes:

WannaGetta PIZZA Famous
Egg Salad Sandwich (served Tuesdays only)

  • One dozen Boiled Eggs
  • One-fourth cup chopped Onion
  • One-fourth cup chopped Dill Pickles
  • One teaspoon spicy brown mustard
  • One cup Sassy Sue’s Sweet Celery Seed Dressing

Stir all ingredients together

Combine finally chopped egg with ingredients, including dressing, onto toasted bread with dressing, serve; toast on two sourdough bread slices dressed with Sassy Sues Dressing.

Lori’s Groovy Gravy All Day Breakfast Pizza

  • Roll out a large dough ball into an oiled nine-inch deep pizza pie pan.
  • Top with sausage and gravy, thin ham, bacon, chopped onions, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses.
  • Bake at 600 degrees for four-to-five minutes.
  • Serve sliced.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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