By Scianna Garcia
Mesa’s Organ Stop Pizza — one of the country’s last “pizza and pipes” restaurants — will celebrate its 50th anniversary this August.
“In the last 50 years we have had many ups and downs, especially the last couple of years during the pandemic, but when the world feels unpredictable, coming together and hearing music brings people delight and comfort,” says Jack Barz, Organ Stop Pizza co-owner.
“We are proud to carry on the pizza and pipes tradition and provide escapism for our guests night after night.”
Opened in 1972, Organ Stop Pizza is home to the “Mighty Wurlitzer,” the largest and most valuable theater organ in the world, worth more than $6 million.
Organ Stop Pizza’s Wurlitzer theater organ was built in 1927 for the Denver Theatre, where it was used until the early 1930s.
Today, Organ Stop’s instrument has been embellished and is now the largest Wurlitzer theater pipe organ. The console mimics that of a Fox Special, Wurlitzer’s largest.
Through the years, several rare sets of pipes have been added to the organ, 32-foot wood diaphones, which are visible from the front of the building.
“Our Wurlitzer is a genuine living piece of history,” says Barz, who rose through the ranks from dishwasher to owner.
“We are proud to be the home of one of the greatest instruments ever created, and our patrons come from across the world to experience this lost art form. Many visitors have even likened their experience to seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time; now that’s a heck of a comparison.”
Each night, the Mighty Wurlitzer rises above the audience on an 8,000-pound rotating hydraulic elevator to sit 10 feet above the 700-seat dining room. The organ has 1,074 keys, buttons and switches linked to a series of xylophones, glockenspiels, gongs and cymbals to create the sound of a full orchestra. Nightly shows also include dancing marionette cats, disco balls and spectacular light shows.
“The range of emotions our guests experience when they hear the Mighty Wurlitzer are infinite,” Barz adds.
The 18,000-square-foot Organ Stop Pizza restaurant was designed to enhance the Wurlitzer’s sound. The building’s 46-foot ceilings provide unparalleled acoustics so the instrument can “speak.” Patrons are surrounded by the organ as they enjoy their meals.
At the console, the organist also controls the lighting and special effects such as the disco ball and bubbles.
“Essentially, the organists are part orchestra conductor, performer and stage director, all rolled into one,” Barz says.
Each year, Organ Stop Pizza attracts roughly 300,000 dinner patrons who enjoy compositions such as “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” “The Hills Are Alive” from “The Sound of Music,” “The Circle of Life” from “The Lion King,” the “Star Wars” theme, and “God Bless America.”
“Every visit to Organ Stop Pizza is unique, with patrons hand-picking the songs via request,” Barz adds. “By the end of the night, an eclectic mix of music is enjoyed by audience members ranging in age from 2 to 102.”
According to Barz, there is practically nothing the Organ Stop Pizza musicians can’t play.
“You name it and our amazing organists can play it,” he said. “You will never encounter a more spectacularly talented group of musicians in the world.”
Barz said he owes 50 years of success to the people of Arizona who have supported the restaurant through all times of the year. He also said he feels lucky to be in Mesa, a large tourist destination during the winter months, where the entire restaurant is filled to capacity every night.
He said the restaurant has been kept alive by those of all ages, as the daily performance is inviting to everyone.
“Two-year-olds are enthralled by it, because of the noise and the lights and the dancing cats and the bubbles coming down from the ceilings,” he says.
“There is something magical about what happens in here. The fact that you can sit in the organ and feel it radiating through your body as you’re sitting in the dining room is something you don’t experience anywhere. Older folks remember these instruments when they were young in the theaters, and it brings back memories from their childhood.”
Besides the prized Mighty Wurlitzer, Organ Stop takes a deep pride in the great quality of its food and service.
The restaurant serves pizza, pasta, sandwiches and appetizers and has a full salad bar as well as soft drinks, beer and wine and Blue Bell ice cream.
In honor of the 50th anniversary, Barz said plans are still in the works, but customers can expect a “50 days to celebrate 50 years” type of concept to “celebrate the fact that the people of Arizona have loved Organ Stop for 50 years and we get to celebrate with them.”
Organ Stop Pizza
1149 E. Southern Avenue, Mesa