Bad news indeed;
On December 10th, Garcia's on Green shut it's doors for the final time. I would post the link to the Daily Illini article, but apparently I can't as a new member. If you google =Garcia's on Green= you can find the article.
This may not be the final nail in the coffin, but it is certainly getting close.
This is particularly sad to me because I spent 4 years working at this location, from 80-84, two of them as a manager. That was, looking back, the golden age for Garcia's, when it was expanding and the future looked bright. They were opening up a number of shops across the Midwest. Bruce Hink was overseeing an expansion beyond the midwest with the opening of the Texas stores. Ralph and Joe had turned down a number of very good offers to franchise the Garcia's brand, wanting to keep control of the quality. Both Ralph and Joe were living the high life, well known CU Millionaires. Rarely seen in the trenches of the actual stores, those duties were left to their district managers, like Ed Wilhite. One rare exception was in the introduction of the Stuffed pizzas in 1980, when they spent many a secretive night after closing time at Green Street working up a clone of Giordano's famous stuffed pizza.
Giordano's was opening up a store in Champaign on Daniel street (or was it John?), and Ralph and Joe wanted to steal their thunder. So in August and early September 1980 everyone had to be cleared out of the store by midnight (normal closing time on weekdays back then was 1 AM and 2 AM on weekend nights) as Ralph and Joe, like Santa's little helpers, would come in the store, and with no one around to see, would cook up various experimental stuffed pizzas until they hit on one that was as good as Giordano's, but with it's own, distinctive Garcia's flair.
This was only discovered because one night we had an unexpected last minute munchie crowd come in. The modus operandi for getting us out by midnight was to do all the prep work early, break down and clean all the stations, and send everyone home leaving only a skeleton crew for the last hour or two, which worked quite well with the light business done during late summer nights. So when this late night rush came in, the manager, Kerry Malinski and I, did the best we could, but were overwhelmed by the volume of work and just couldn't get out by midnight. Now, no-one knew exactly what was going on, because it was all very hush-hush. But when 12:30 rolled around, we were still putting the finishing touches on cleaning up the restaurant, and who should come strolling in but Ralph and Joe, carrying various types of pie pans and bags of spices and the like. They were somewhat put out that we were still there and gruffly asked us to hurry up and get out. We did, all the while pondering what sort of secret pizza experiments they were up to. Apparently we threw them off schedule, as well, for the morning manager, Connie Hink, reported that when she arrived in the morning (and she was, for some reason, a half hour early. Usually the morning manager would show up at 8 or so, but that particular morning she came in at 7:30) Joe and Ralph were still cleaning up, and she said she saw what looked like very deep dish pizzas, smaller in diameter than the usual size. These were the new stuffed pizzas, but no-one knew it yet.
It wasn't until the first week in September that we discovered what the deal was. Certain select individuals were chosen from the Green and Lincoln Avenue shops and we spent that week in training with Ralph and Joe learning the tricks of making this newfangled stuffed Pizza. We also did a little tweaking as well, as I recall having a few taste samplings of Giordano's and Garcia's during this training to make sure we were making , if not a superior product, one that was at least as good. Ah, those were the days.
I wish I had thought to make a copy of the recipe for the spices used to top the stuffed pizza, because that was quite a tantalizing mix. It was also the only recipe we had access to. The dough came ready made from the tomato warehouse, and the sauce was made by mixing cans of stewed tomatoes and tomato paste with water and a powdery mixture also made at the warehouse. There was a recipe manual that the head manager had access to which had the dough and sauce recipes in them in case of emergency, but I never had access to that. I heard that most of the stores received their dough and sauce mixes from the warehouse, but a few of the outlying stores did have to make their own.
I don't know what went wrong and why this once mighty empire has fallen on such hard times, but I have my suspicions. On the rare occasion I get back to Illinois I try to visit my old stomping grounds and get a few half-cooked pies to bring back with me to LA. I am saddened that I will not be able to revisit this location of so many bittersweet memories.
Hamir the Hermit