Thursday marked the end of an era for pizza eaters on Novato's west side. With a packed house and a party atmosphere on the final night, in The Square shopping center closed after nearly a quarter century in business.
Walt Pekic, owner-operator for the past 11 years, decided to shut down the ovens after negotiations broke down with the landlord. On Thursday he gave out countless hugs to emotional customers, employees and family members as the hours wound down and the wine started to flow.
Pekic says he’ll especially miss his 13 employees, most of whom have been with him since the start. He said he'll miss the local Little League teams Villa Roma sponsored through the years, ones honored by plaques of thanks on the restaurant wall.
“I’ll miss the customers, too. Many of them have become good friends,” he said.
Pekic said word of the impending closure spread like wildfire and by 3 p.m. Thursday he was already running out of supplies. His parents came up from Corte Madera and mingled with their son’s friends from the lodge. Former employees came in to say goodbye and put in one more order. Several loyal customers bought pizzas and swore they’d freeze them and eat them later for nostalgia’s sake.
The Square, at the junction of Novato Boulevard and Wilson Avenue, already has a number of vacancies and this additional closure can't bode well for a center that has been showing its age for a while now. Horizon Properties, which manages the Square for owner Jeffry Chang, said it would have an announcement about new tenants in early 2011, but that never materialized. A CVS pharmacy is the anchor tenant, but a larger spot that used to be a grocery store has been empty since August 2009. The center is at about 50 percent capacity.
Prior to Pekic, George Katsaros owned Villa Roma for 14 years, and prior to that the spot was a pizzeria under another name for 10 years.
Pekic said he has no immediate plans other than spending more time with his daughter. After 11 years working every facet of the operation, Pekic said it’s time for a breather.
"It meant so much to be surrounded by my friends (on the last night)," he said. "It was the perfect sendoff — lots of fun, laughter, great food and drink. It inspired me to look forward to a new chapter of my life."
Walt, Novato wishes you all the best.