JOPLIN, Mo. —
Be prepared: Job seekers looking for employment at Rocco's Palace Pizza may be required to audition.
Two of the four regular employees sing, and the manager plays guitar. Between pizzas, those staff members will break out into song spontaneously.
"At least once or twice a night we'll sing," said Luke Sheafer, manager of the restaurant. "It's our way of throwing a wrench in, and giving dinner a different vibe."
Opened in late July, the new restaurant has added music to its list of pizza toppings. The method of performing music is part of the restaurant's efforts to create a sporadic, fun environment.
Sheafer said owner Robert Rice was inspired by a certain cinnamon roll store in New Orleans. While the rolls were mediocre, the store had a regular line out the door, because the four brothers who owned it were also R&B singers, and regularly sang barbershop quartet numbers.
"People would line up just to get a cinnamon roll for that experience," Sheafer said. "That's the kind of atmosphere we're trying to create."
Sheafer knows a bit about performance: He is the lead singer of Me Like Bees, a band that tours throughout the region and recently released a full-length album.
The walls of the restaurant, located at 122 S. Main St., are steeped in history. Pictures of vintage Joplin ephemera, including an 1892 diploma from Joplin High School, are placed throughout. The diploma belonged to Winnie Lampkin, who is supposedly one of the first women to graduate from the high school.
The restaurant named itself after Palace Recreation, a pool hall that used to be inside the building. It has also been a grocery store, a boarding house, a bar and more, Rice said.
After 1970, the building was in a dilapidated state until Rice acquired it, he said. And it was the perfect place for pizza.
"I've always wanted to open a pizza place," Rice said. "This block has enough traffic to support a pizza place easily, and this is the right size."
The interior is also filled with jokes about the fictional Rocco and his exploits, including conversations with Abraham Lincoln and other accomplishments.
But one sign is no joke. Pointing to a square piece filled with burn marks, the sign indicates that firefighters tried, and failed, to get a piece of the restaurant's tin ceiling to burn. Because of a special, fire-resistant paint, the ceiling remained unharmed.
The paint allowed Rice to keep the historic ceiling and stay within Joplin's building code, he said.
"It would have hurt to take it down," Rice said. "There's not many of these old ceilings left. We have to save them."
Inside each pie
History doesn't satisfy a physical appetite, however. That's what the pizza is intended to do.
Sold in pies or by the slice, the pizza is made with a unique blend of cheese, and almost a pound is placed on each pie. Sheafer said testing of cheese blends was extensive, and they got what they wanted by blending two different mixtures.
"While messing with blends, we liked the texture of one and the flavor of another," Sheafer said. "We ended up mixing them half and half."
The sauce is also a homemade creation. Sheafer said he had to slow Rice down while developing it, because he would add ingredients too quickly without reporting the measurement.
The recipe makes for a pizza that goes beyond what chain restaurants prepare, said Jessica Currier, of Joplin, who ate at the restaurant last week.
"It definitely separates itself from fast food pizza," Currier said.
Sheafer said the restaurant is looking at menu and entertainment expansions. The restaurant offers a larger beer selection and occasionally offers a fruit-topped dessert pie. As it finishes its second month in operation, Sheafer said he is looking at other pizza entrees and entertainment options Ñ including singers.
Want to go?
Rocco's Palace Pizza is open from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays; and 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturdays. Free delivery is limited to downtown locations. Details: 417-627-9226.