With its fleet of VW Bugs, dancing waiters and hippie attitude, this laidback pizzeria has been rocking Stillwater, Oklahoma, since 1957.
Opened in 1957, Hideaway Pizza (hideawaypizza.net) was Oklahoma’s second pizzeria, but it probably would have gone under if Richard Dermer, at age 20, hadn’t taken the helm in 1960. That decade ushered in both the free spirit of the ’60s and a new generation of customers who were catching on to the pizza craze (it didn’t hurt that the pizzeria was located in Stillwater, home of Oklahoma State University). Through the years, Dermer catered to his quirky college clientele with various marketing tactics, but his most successful involved the fleet of Volkswagen Bug delivery vehicles that zipped around town, “gaudily painted in stripes, polka dots, plaids and every other imaginable pattern,” Dermer recalls, with a laugh. “They were a tremendous presence in the community.” Utilized from the mid-60s to the mid-90s, the cars unfailingly garnered attention wherever they traveled.
However, making money has been almost secondary to—and, conversely, a by-product of—Dermer’s other goal: creating a family of employees and a superb work environment. With tie-dyed uniform shirts, rock ‘n’ roll music and dancing waiters, Hideaway stamped itself as a place to have fun, for both employees and customers. “Our greatest success is our thousands of successful former employees: doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, etc., whom we were able to help through college and mold early in their lives as individuals,” says Dermer. He also credits his employees for the success of the business: “In the mid-60s, I ran a series of marketing projects that indicated ‘atmosphere’ was most important for a restaurant’s success; a subsequent study showed that ‘employee attitude’ was the most important component of ‘atmosphere,’” he explains. “Happy employees mean happy customers!”
Over the years, the business has evolved. Dermer entered a partnership with one of his managers at the original location, giving up many of the day-to-day responsibilities, and the brand has now grown to 13 locations (owned by Hideaway 2, a spin-off corporation) in Oklahoma. But Hideaway remains much the same in its sensibility, providing great value and service with a laid-back vibe. And Dermer still remains in the business, but not in the role you’d expect: “I do go in and work several days a week,” he says, “but usually as a dishwasher—I let my manager do all the managing.” —Tracy Morin
Editor’s note: Richard Dermer passed away on March 14, 2014. He was 74 years old.