New Albany pizza parlor celebrates 50 years of change — but its recipes remain

Gary Seman Jr.
The Columbus Dispatch
Manager Tanner Jakeway slices a small pizza for a customer while working at Eagles Pizza, 2 N. High St. in New Albany. The family-owned pizza parlor is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

In 1971, the village of New Albany had a population barely exceeding 500.

That also was the year that Tom and Marjorie Keesee bought Eagle Pizza and renamed it Eagles Villa Pizza, located smack dab in the town center.

A lot has changed in New Albany since then, as the affluent suburb has experienced enviable commercial and residential growth, with the population swelling to about 11,000.

Yet Eagles Pizza still is the same family-run, independent pizzeria. It moved only once in 50 years, from a tiny building to its current nest at 2 N. High St. a year after the Keesees bought it.

Owner Dennis Keesee, son of the founders, acknowledged 50 years is a long time in the restaurant business.

“You watch the community grow,” he said. “You have a lot of customers come and go – a lot of fond memories.”

After all, he was 11 when he started slinging pizzas and 18 when he took over the business. By that time, the family had opened Johnnies Villa Pizza in Johnstown (informally known as Villa Pizza).

“I’m the youngest of four,” said Keesee, 61. “(Dad) had three in college. When I graduated, my dad said, ‘I can’t afford you. Here’s a clipboard. There you go.’ ”

Even so, the job became more difficult to manage, so Dennis Keesee recruited his wife, Teresa, and his daughter and son-in-law, Rachel and Adam Savage, both teachers at the time.

Coworkers Don Binns, left, and Matt Adams have lunch April 15 at Eagles Pizza in New Albany.

Eagles is known for its wafer-thin crust made from house-tossed dough, square-cut pieces and provolone instead of mozzarella.

“It’s really a cracker-type crust,” said Adam Savage, 31, who has been working at the pizzeria since he was 15. “We spend a lot of money on our cheese to give it that special taste, I can tell you that much.”

There is a build-your-own-pizza option on the menu, plus predesigned pies. One of the top sellers is the taco pizza.

“We sell an insane amount every year,” Savage said. “A few years ago, we sold about 30,000.”

The bill of fare includes dinners – such as smothered meatballs, fish and baked spaghetti – salads, subs and sandwiches. Nothing, with the exception of larger pizzas, tops $11.

The modest interior at Eagles, in a building that opened in 1856, pays homage to New Albany’s past, through pictures and carefully appointed farm equipment, and the decor gives a big salute to the military through posters, artifacts, clothing and books.

After all, Dennis Keesee is an author and history buff, serving as executive director of the New Albany Historical Society.

A pepperoni and banana pepper pizza, left, and a taco pizza at Eagles Pizza in New Albany.

The Johnstown pizzeria, at 105 W. Coshocton St,. will move into a new building next door by 2023 – its golden anniversary, Keesee said.

Otherwise, the ownership has decided not to expand in an effort to avoid tampering with the recipes that have a 50-year tradition, he said.

“We just realized that if you want to do it right, you have to be in your stores, in our opinion,” Keesee said. “I’m very hands-on.”

Eagles Pizza's hours are 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 4 to 10 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 614-855-7600.

Venezuelan food truck

Cilantro Latin Bistro, one of Columbus' latest food trucks, is serving Venezuelan cuisine in front of the Sunoco fuel station at 993 King Ave. in Columbus.

Owned by Hector and Tiffany Munoz, the truck has a permanent spot there but occasionally leaves for event catering, Hector Munoz said.

The house specialty is the arepa, which comes in seven varieties. The arepa is a corn-flour cake that acts like sandwich bread. Customers get to choose their own ingredients or opt for a signature selection.

The “614” arepa, emerging as a new favorite, has steak, grilled cheese and cilantro sauce.

The menu also serves build-your-own bowls, empanadas, platters and juice drinks.

Nothing on the menu tops $13.99.

Sign: Closed for remodeling

The sign on the door of XinWei Kitchen says it’s closed for remodeling.

The Chinese restaurant, which took over the former Bahn Thai space at 1932 W. Henderson Road, didn’t indicate when it was reopening.

gseman@thisweeknews.com