About Godfather's Pizza ~ The Real Story

Godfather's Pizza was founded in the fall of 1973, in Omaha, Nebraska, following the release of The Godfather movie throughout the country.

The pizza and the concept grew in popularity because of its quality niche and unique offerings. It was a natural role for The Godfather to be the enforcer of this great pizza pie, tagged as a “pie” because of the thick crust filled with quality toppings covered with mountains of mozzarella cheese holding it together.

Today there are more than 640 Godfather's Pizza locations made up of traditional restaurants, offering dine-in, carryout and delivery, non-traditional units located in airports, universities and many convenience stores.

  • 1973

    The Godfather’s Pizza story began in a suburb of Omaha, NE when Willy Theisen opened a store named after the wildly successful movie starring Marlon Brando.

  • 1973

    Willy’s first creation was the Classic Combo. This is the pizza that made us famous – fresh crust piled high pepperoni, sausage, beef, onions, black olives, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese. One bite of the Classic Combo conquers all cravings.

  • 1974

    The first franchise was opened in Lincoln, NE. The pizza and the concept grew in popularity because of its quality niche and unique offerings.

  • 1974

    The first Godfather’s Pizza restaurant was built next door to Theisen’s bar – Wild Willy’s. Soon the wall between the two was removed. As word of mouth about this new concept spread, franchising began.

  • 1976

    The Godfather character was developed to be the enforcer of the company’s great pizza. Bill Koll had the original role and coined the term “pizza pie.” Why pie? Because of the thick crust filled with quality toppings and covered in mountains of mozzarella cheese to hold it together.

  • 1977-1979

    Quality products consistently produced in simple, efficient operations catapulted Godfather’s Pizza to number one in sales growth for fast food chains by trade journals three years in a row!

  • 1981

    The slogan, “A pizza you can’t refuse,” began hitting the airwaves.

  • 1982

    With 632 franchise restaurants, Godfather’s Pizza became the second largest pizza chain in the U.S. and filed an initial stock offering under the symbol GFPZ.

  • 1983

    Theisen stepped down as president & CEO and Charles Boppell was selected as the new president. Godfather’s Pizza, Inc. was acquired by Chart House of Lafayette, LA. This acquisition and merger created a new company called Diversifoods, Inc.

  • 1984

    Corporate headquarters were relocated to Costa Mesa, CA and Pete Pettis became president. That same year, the company introduced thin crust pizza, pizza by the slice and delivery service.

  • 1985

    Pillsbury acquired Diversifoods, Inc. which owned Godfather’s Pizza, Inc. and Herman Cain was named president.

  • 1986

    Nation’s Restaurant News reported, “One of the biggest, most publicized rollouts of the summer is Godfather’s Hot Slice. The chain is offering slices for under $2 each, designed to make the chain competitive with all other fast food operations at lunchtime.” Stuffed Pan Pizza was introduced/lunch buffet was tested.

  • 1988

    The Pillsbury Company put Godfather’s Pizza, Inc. up for sale and Herman Cain, Ron Gartlan and other members of the senior management team purchased the company in a leverage buyout transaction.

  • 1988

    Ronald Reagan’s entourage orders three large pizzas to-go from a Bowling Green, KY location – vegetarian, combo and a sausage, pepperoni, mushroom and extra cheese. Witnesses note Secret Service agents are quick to sample the pizzas…for safety, of course.

  • 1988

    A new concept, Godfather’s Pizza Express, introduced hungry travelers and snackers to fresh, hot pizza when the company opened its first convenience store in West Virginia.

  • 1990

    Godfather’s Pizza created the Math By the Slice program aimed at increasing the performance of students in second and third grades. The program allowed students the ability to learn basic math facts by playing pizza related games.

  • 1991

    The Godfather was quickly being recognized for the, “I know your neighborhood,” ads.

  • 1991

    Godfather’s Pizza recognized the consumer’s need to feed their families a quality product at an affordable price and began promoting Family Feasts which consisted of a combination of pizza, sides and desserts. Super Specialty Pizzas like Super Taco, Super Combo, and Super Pepperoni were introduced.

  • 1992

    If you had a mob to feed and a large wasn’t big enough; Godfather’s Pizza had the answer. The company launched the 12-slice Jumbo Combo pizza, telling customers, “It can feed a cast of thousands.”

  • 1994

    Always trying to improve, Godfather’s Pizza outdid the Jumbo and created the Jumbo Family Feast. Why? Because there’s always room for dessert!

  • 1995

    Ron Gartlan became President and CEO.

  • 1996

    President and CEO Ron Gartlan was selected to carry the Olympic Torch in Omaha NE.

  • 1996

    The tagline, “An Offer You Can’t Refuse,” gave way to a new message, “Pizza The Way Pizza Was Meant to Be.”

  • 1997

    Chocolate lovers of the world took notice when Godfather’s Pizza first launched the BIG chocolate chip cookie that was nine inches across and the equivalent to 10 chocolate chip cookies.

  • 1998

    A new box design told the world Godfather’s Pizza was celebrating 25 years in business!

  • 2000

    The new Godfather character was introduced.

  • 2004

    An American favorite, Monkey Bread, was added to the menu. It is still the number one selling dessert.

  • 2004

    Godfather’s Pizza was named the national sponsor of Boys Town.

  • 2008

    In September of 2008, Godfather’s Pizza celebrated 35 years of making great pizza!

  • 2009

    In response to a large # of people with allergies, Godfather’s Pizza created a Gluten-Free line. The pizzas are baked in the restaurant using CSA-approved baking procedures or customers can take a pre-packaged pie home to bake. The company introduced Mozza-Loaded –golden crust stuffed with real mozzarella cheese.

  • 2011

    For pizza lovers who wanted to watch their waistlines, the company introduced The Don’s Light Line. All the great gourmet taste of Godfather’s Pizza, with fewer calories. Only 150-180 calories per medium slice on thin crust.

  • 2012

    Throwing big parties became a breeze when Godfather’s Pizza created the BigShot® pizza. It’s 30” round, five pounds of dough, two and a half pounds of cheese and 52 slices of fun!

  • 2013

    From one small pizza joint back in 1973 to over 600 franchisees and 22 corporate locations, Godfather’s Pizza has come a long way in 40 years.