Mike White finds fulfillment in how much the Oregon Pizza Pit has made its mark on the community since opening May 9, 1999.
The 130 N. Main St. joint has become the place for athletic teams to hang out and grab some slices after games and practices, where families flock for a night out and, for some of White’s customers, a morning breakfast pizza stop before it’s off to the office.
The owner told the Observer he likes to “take care” of all of his customers however he can, just like they have taken care of the business for the last 20 years. Having grown up in Oregon and graduated from Oregon High School in 1990, White said he loved his community so much, he wanted to someday, somehow give back.
White preparing pizzas for the Oregon School District to use for school lunches earlier this month, White explained to the Observer how he makes the dough from scratch. It was an hour before the restaurant was to open at 11 a.m., and he kneaded a premade clump of pizza dough into a the familiar circular shape before flipping it in the air.
Once he was satisfied with the thickness and shape, White then moved soon-to-be crust to the toppings station, where he spread tomato sauce over its surface. On top of the sauce White sprinkled pieces of mozzarella cheese and hamburger. On other pizzas, he had dispersed slices of pepperoni.
It was then White said he had always enjoyed making pizzas, even back when he first got into the business of it.
“If you love what you do, you don’t work,” White said.
He went away to school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study computer science, and found himself working for a Pizza Pit location in Madison.
Back then, the Pizza Pit — now known as Pizza Pit Extreme – had 29 franchise stores across Wisconsin, White said.
At one point, White said he grew to be in charge of 20 Pizza Pit stores, and his love of managing the restaurants and making pizza in general outweighed his interest in computer science.
So he went with making pizzas instead, returning to Oregon and obtaining a space to open his own pizza joint.
Oregon Pizza Pit, which has a name and style of operation based on the former franchise, used to be where the Chocolate Caper is now located from 1999 to around 2004, White said.
Back then, the restaurant was delivery-only, but White said as the Village of Oregon grew, Oregon Pizza Pit also outgrew its space in kind and moved into the old Dean Medical Center — its current location.
And that’s where the business has remained for the last 15 years. In that span of time, White said he has seen employees come and go, but that turnover was especially challenging during the Great Recession.
White said from 2006-2012, he was the only one running the restaurant after laying staff off — his days often running from 7 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. He said it made it hard to see his family, but taking things one day at a time helped him. In 2019, the restaurant is back up to 17 employees.
“You rinse and repeat,” White said.
He said having that attitude and the support of his family has helped him stay dedicated to the business, helping it become the community staple it is today. It’s also helped him give back to the village through various Oregon entities and local athletics programs.
“(By opening Oregon Pizza Pit) I wanted to give back to the community that gave me so much when I was growing up,” White said.