MALTA – When you first step foot into Old School Pizza, you get two welcomes.
The first is a fun visual blast of quirky and retro pop culture nostalgia: a 20-foot-tall King Tut, the Grand Prize Game from “The Bozo Show,” the leg lamp from “A Christmas Story,” a 1939 Bantam Speedster, the green ghost, Slimer from “Ghostbusters,” a McDonald’s Apple Pie Tree, “The Simpsons” characters riding a train, a fortune teller machine, pinball games, life-size fiberglass statues of Elvis and Madonna, a wall of lava lamps and a bar top collage of stickers.
The second welcome is a cheerful hello by the restaurant’s owners, Molly and Josh Holbrook, who are happy to tell the tale of the eatery’s unique décor, all from their own personal collection. Josh Holbrook’s grandfather’s 1970 Harley Davidson motorcycle is one of the restaurant’s many statement pieces.
“We love everything vintage and wanted to feature tons of pop culture references,” Josh Holbrook said. “We wanted it to be geared toward families, but not be a Chuck E. Cheese. We wanted to make it a restaurant everyone would like to go to, yet have a unique ‘Stranger Things’ or House on the Rock vibe. We wanted the atmosphere to be fun and welcoming.”
The pizzeria is old school in more than its interior decor – it’s located in Malta’s old school building at 507 N. Third St. in Malta, at the southeast corner of North Fourth and East Jackson streets. Josh and Molly Holbrook and their three children, 15-year-old Herman, 12-year-old Olive and 4-year-old Johnny, live in the school building and converted part of the building into the pizzeria.
Opening in mid-to-late March, Old School Pizza will offer pizza, appetizers, hamburgers and weekly specials, including a pasta night. The restaurant will open without a liquor license, but after acquiring the license, will serve alcohol.
“We’re still working to finalize the menu, but we hope to have pop culture references, like an olive oil and spinach Sweethaven Pizza to honor Popeye, a Grease Lightning Hamburger or a peanut butter and banana dessert calzone to honor Elvis,” Molly Holbrook said.
“We have also thought about serving food on cafeteria trays and having kid’s pizza in the rectangular shape you’d get for a school lunch. We have lots of ideas,” she said.
Turning a School into a Pizzeria
Josh Holbrook was helping his brother move into his new home in Malta when neighbor Bob Canova saw them outside and stopped to chat. One of the first questions he asked was, “Do you know someone who wants to buy a school?”
“We looked at the building and thought it was awesome,” Josh Holbrook said. “It just made sense and we fell in love with the town. We’re unique and creative individuals. It was a one-of-a-kind opportunity.”
The Holbrooks are not new to the unordinary and they don’t back down from a challenge. Molly Holbrook held the Guinness World Record for organizing the world’s largest pie fight on June 13, 2009, on a farm in Genoa. She took the record away from the band Weezer, but three months later, her record was broken by Regis and Kelly.
“We’ve always liked to have fun and be unique,” she said. “Our house is full of antiques and collectibles. We like being a little bit different.”
Molly, a nurse, and Josh, who owns a landscaping company, said they looked into buying other buildings, including a one-room schoolhouse and a church, before purchasing the old Malta school building and moving from Elgin. The Holbrooks also have purchased South Pointe Centre, a former banquet facility in DeKalb, and are working on converting it into a music venue.
“Every day since we bought the school building, we’ve been fixing it up,” Molly Holbrook said. “The building has a horseshoe shape. The library is our living room, four classrooms are our bedrooms. We have a movie theater, workout room and plenty of storage space. We even have a gym with a stage and a basketball court.”
The building was built as Malta Township High School in 1937 and housed Malta’s elementary, middle and high schools through the years. In 1964, the high school and junior high moved to a new location at 5068 Route 38. In 2000, Malta School District 433 was annexed into DeKalb School District 428 and sixth through 12 grades started attending school in DeKalb. Kindergarten through fifth grades remained at the old school location until 2010, when the old school was vacated and the building on Route 38 became Malta Elementary School.
The DeKalb School District sold the building at auction to a private buyer in 2012. The building was vacant and went unused for about five years. The Holbrooks bought the building in September 2017 and spent more than a year renovating it.
As they were renovating the building and living in it, the couple partially rezoned the lot to be mixed-use, both residential and commercial.
“At first we thought about opening a bar, but I used to manage a pizza place,” Josh Holbrook said. “Then I started thinking about it, and I realize I eat a lot of pizza, a few times a week, almost every day. I thought, ‘Why not start a pizza restaurant with really good thin crust and double dough?’”
The Holbrooks chose to use the school’s all-purpose room as the location of their new pizza restaurant. The room was added onto the building in 1958 and was used as the school’s cafeteria and elementary school gym. To transform the space, the basketball hoops were taken down and the Holbrooks painted and redecorated. They kept a mural painted on one wall by students in 1961 and 1962 and a classroom’s chalkboard is hanging above the bar.
“We bought chairs and booths and started adding in items from our own collection,” Josh Holbrook said. “When we mentioned turning the space into a restaurant, everyone asks about the mural. We love it and we’re keeping it. We’ve even left the original plaque on the wall.”
Josh Holbrook said he wanted the restaurant to be “a mix of pop culture and a fun pizza restaurant, without taking away from Malta’s history.”
“We really hope the restaurant will be a destination, where people come from different towns,” Josh Holbrook said. “It will be a restaurant everyone can enjoy. We’ve always had four goals in mind: great food, a fun atmosphere, a nice team to work with and super clean. We just want to offer good food and good prices.”
Molly Holbrook said she hopes the new restaurant “will bring the community and families together.”
“I hope it reminds people of their childhood and brings back happy memories,” she said. “I hope it reminds them to sit back, relax and enjoy the little things in life.”
For more information about Old School Pizza, visit their website or Facebook page.
Source: The Daily Chronicle