Iconic Nashua pizza parlor calls it quits after more than half-century

Courtesy photo The late Bob Kerouac, who founded Nashua icon Bob's Pizza in 1965, stands at the counter of the first store on Temple Street in the late 1960s, when a cheese pizza was $1.45 and 20 cents a slice. Kerouac's son, also named Bob, said various factors played a role in his decision to close the business.

NASHUA – At some point in the early 1960s, the late Robert Kerouac found himself at a crossroads, facing a major decision that would likely affect his career – and his and his young family’s future.

In retrospect, Kerouac, by all accounts, made the right decision.

At the time the manager of a longtime downtown Nashua pizza shop called Espresso, Kerouac was told by the owner he was selling the Nashua shop and two or three others he owned.

Was Kerouac interested in buying the Nashua store, the owner wanted to know?

“Nope, my dad wasn’t interested,” Kerouac’s son, also named Bob and often called by his longtime nickname “Snook,” or “Snookie,” said last week.

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup Kitchen equipment is being gradually removed from Bob's Pizza on East Hollis Street this month, following the decision by owner Bob Kerouac to discontinue the arrangement with Royal Miller, who operated the business for the past three years.

“Instead, he went out and opened his own.”

The younger Kerouac was a student at Nashua High School when his father outfitted a small space in one half of the ground floor of a retail/residential building at 59 Temple St. and put a “Bob’s Pizza” sign in the window.

Now, the 53-year run that began with the elder Kerouac’s decision to strike out on his own has come to an end, a decision cemented when the younger Kerouac and the shop’s most recent owner, Royal Miller, agreed to part ways.

Kerouac retains ownership of the Bob’s Pizza name, and still owns both the Temple Street shop where Bob’s Pizza was born and the shop at 115 East Hollis St. that he opened shortly after graduating from Nashua High.

Baby boomers of a certain age will recall the era when two Bob’s Pizzas coexisted quite nicely about a half-mile apart.

Courtesy photo Bob Kerouac, whose father, also named Bob, founded Bob's Pizza in 1965, builds a pizza in the kitchen of the East Hollis Street store, where he started working while in high school. More than 50 years later, Kerouac is closing the iconic pizza shop.

The elder Kerouac’s eventual retirement led to the closure of the Temple Street location, which in turn prompted his son to enlarge the East Hollis Street shop and add amenities such as a video game room that was almost always busy.

But no matter how many renovations or spruce-ups Kerouac undertook over the years, they always took a back seat to the quality of the food.

Kerouac actually sold the business twice, the first time in the late 1980s to an acquaintence who was a district manager for the regional chain Papa Gino’s.

But the new owner didn’t share Kerouac’s philosophy, at least when it came to how to run a pizza place.

“Part of our mantra was always, ‘give (customers) the best you can give them,'” he said. “It’s all about quality – if it’s there, it’s got to stay. There are some things you just can’t substitute for.”

The time would come when talk of Bob’s included suggestions that Kerouac may be thinking about buying the shop back, and that’s precisely what happened come the 1990s.

“It took me probably 10 years to bring it back to the roaring business it was. But I got it back,” Kerouac said, flashing a smile.

When retirement beckoned, Kerouac chose a date and made a call to his former right-hand man, Ken York, who managed the shop until he left several years earlier.

“Ken worked for me for something like 25 years,” Kerouac said. “I told him, if you come back and run it for me, it’s yours.”

Bob’s continued thriving under York, who, about three years ago, moved on to other pursuits and sold the business to Miller.

Could Bob’s Pizza resurface somewhere, at some point, in the future? Kerouac isn’t committal one way or the other, but what he is committed to is enjoying retirement with his wife of nearly 50 years, Joyce.

And if Bob’s Pizza ever does resurface, the guy at the counter or in the kitchen won’t be Kerouac.

“It’s time,” he said. “I’m 70. I really don’t have any 12-hour shifts left in me.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.