Back in the mid 00s, my wife and I lived a blissful kid-free life in a spacious (though leaky) two-bedroom near MeritCare Hospital (now Sanford). Helicopter and siren noise notwithstanding, it was a fine place for us to start out.
This apartment’s biggest asset was its proximity to downtown Fargo bars, as it was just a few stumbling blocks from our occasional weekend bar crawls. Of those, the closest was the Bismarck, which had its own big assets, namely one of those countertop pizza ovens and Pizza Corner pizza.
At the end of an evening, we’d often pop into the Biz for a nightcap and a quick pizza. There’s just something about the way it cooks in those ovens. It’s a match made in heaven—like sausage and pepperoni—hot and crispy, with lovely browned cheese.
Memories like these having been flooding in since it was reported late last week that Pizza Corner had been sold to regional rival Bernatello’s. While there are no indications yet that the pizza itself will fundamentally change, the place they’re made will definitely change. Bernatello’s is moving the production of Pizza Corner to its own facilities in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and some 140 jobs in Valley City are in jeopardy.
Parts of me could probably stand a little less love for Pizza Corner. Like the callous on the roof of my mouth from repeated burnings from super-hot cheese grease. Or the extra five points of blood pressure from the repeated “just one more slice” justifications. Or this extra half inch of love handle that is nothin’ but love for Pizza Corner.
What kept me coming back to Pizza Corner was its distinct taste compared to other frozen pizza. While most frozen pizzas are a ghoulish mound of thick, preservative-laden crusts and piles of bland cheese, Pizza Corner has a different approach. It’s a Zen pizza, forsaking the Chicago deep-dish influence or the Pizza Hut “what monstrosity can we market?” approach. It, along with Duane’s House of Pizza and Sammy’s helps legitimize the thin, party-cut pie as pizza a la upper Midwest.
I fear, and my nostalgic palate will agree, that the components of Pizza Corner will change. The crackery crust. The salty creaminess of the chicken alfredo. The meaty crunch of the taco … I’m keeping a wary eye on them all.
But even if they remain exactly the same, something is still lost in Pizza Corner’s move from Valley City. Pizza Corner is our frozen pizza. It’s what we get when Dad is too lazy to cook. It’s what we eat on a Friday movie night. It’s our nightcap after a pub crawl with one too many stops. It’s what is stockpiled in the freezer after a neighbor comes around raising money for Scouts. It ends up being the stuff we crave when we’re away at college or what we serve to family who haven’t been home in years.
There is hope in the fact that Pizza Corner isn’t going far, just one state away. I’ll keep buying them and, if the taste isn’t too far off, I’ll still enjoy them. But the sale still marks a loss for our region and a loss for the state of North Dakota, which can lay claim only a few notable culinary exports.
Here’s a toast to you, Pizza Corner. May your new owners and your new markets take you to new, exciting places. I’ll fondly recall when you were just a stumble away at our neighborhood bar.