Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dinner 'n' a Movie: The Return of Mother's Pizza

Mother's new 2013 logo for its restaurant
A couple of years ago, while browsing the internet, I found out that Mother's Pizza (formally Mother's Pizza Parlour & Spaghetti House) was being revived. This is after having gone out of business in the early '90's. At its peak, the popular restaurant chain had approximately 120 locations across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. I was excited by this news because as a young boy, my parents took me and my brothers and sisters to Mother's several times. We'd always order a large pizza but their menu had a lot more to offer. For a beverage, I would always have a large root beer in a giant mug. Sometimes I would have a root beer float. The waitresses were dressed in red and white checked aprons which matched the tablecloths. They also wore bonnets. The throwback uniforms were in keeping with the old-fashioned decor of the restaurant. Everywhere you would look, there were reminders of days gone by. The walls were filled with vintage black and white photographs. The restaurant also had swinging parlour-style doors, antique-style chairs and Tiffany lamps. The whole atmosphere was warm and cozy. Mother's went to great lengths to make you feel at home. They even had their own pie wagon!

What does all this have to do with movies, you ask? As it turns out, quite a bit. As a matter of fact, Mother's Pizza is partly responsible for my love of silent movies. Although I didn't know it at the time, it was the start of my film fanaticism. Let me elaborate.

The famous Mother's waitress uniform and pizza pedestal
In addition to the great food it would serve, Mother's showed black & white, silent movies for the patrons to watch. Dinner and a movie! Most of these were short films, many of them from the great comic actors of the silent film era. As a young kid, I got to see Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and the Keystone Cops all perform their brand of slapstick humour. I would always laugh as they would do pratfalls and be amazed when they were running on top of rail cars or hanging out of windows of high-rise buildings.  There might have been some early Our Gang and Laurel and Hardy shorts shown also. The average film would probably run fifteen to twenty minutes in length so there was always time to watch at least a couple of them during each visit. I can't quite remember if full length features were ever shown. In any case, once the meal was finished and the bill was paid, every kid was allowed to pick out a free sucker out of a basket next to the cash register, if I recall correctly. It didn't get any better than that!

A few years later, one by one, Mother's restaurants began to close and the memories began to fade away with them.

Fast forward to the present and you'll find that Mother's Pizza is back in business.
Before any of you skeptics out there zero in on the suspicious date of that tweet, let me assure you it's not an April Fool joke. The first restaurant did indeed open on April 1st in Hamilton, Ontario, where it all began.

Surely it won't be the same though. Are they going to play silent movies like the good 'ol days?
That answers that question. In return, Mother's posed a question of its own regarding movies.

I suggested Mel Brooks' own Silent Movie with its star-studded cast including Paul Newman and Burt Reynolds.

The General theatrical poster
The General (1926)

Here's an example of a film that Mother's might have shown back in it's heyday.

The General is a 1926 black and white silent comedy which stars Buster Keaton and Marion Mack. It is based on the Great Locomotive Chase, a military raid that occurred during the American Civil War. Keaton also co-wrote, produced and directed the film. In it, he plays a train engineer who helps the Confederate Army thwart Union soldiers with the help of his locomotive, the "General". Many scenes show Keaton performing several dangerous stunts on the moving train. Among other things, the film is noted for having the single most expensive scene of the silent film era.

Directed by Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton
Starring       Buster Keaton — Johnny Gray       
                    Marion Mack — Annabelle Lee
                    Glen Cavender — Captain Anderson
                    Jim Farley — General Thatcher
                    Frederick Vroom — A Confederate General
                    Joe Keaton — Union General
                    Mike Donlin — Union General

Buster Keaton made his last silent film appearance in 1965 in a film by the National Film Board of Canada called The Railrodder. It's safe to say that he loved railroads given that the majority of his time on screen is spent on train tracks in both this and The General. There was even a documentary made while filming The Railrodder, chronicling his time spent off screen when he wasn't shooting. It's called Buster Keaton Rides Again.

Here are a series of vintage TV commercials for Mother's Pizza, one of them featuring Dennis Weaver, the star of McCloud and Duel which is basically Jaws on eighteen wheels. That's not surprising since it was directed by a young Steven Spielberg who makes the most of this TV movie.

I look forward to getting re-acquainted with Mother's Pizza in the future to rekindle some great memories. The Hamilton location is too far for me to visit on a whim but perhaps with future expansion, one will open once again in my neck of the woods. Any potential franchise owners out there?

Finally, in honour of Mother's re-opening, here is a top ten list of pizza moments in movies.

Pizza Cinema
  1. Mystic Pizza (1988) - A slice of heaven
  2. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) - Jeff Spicoli orders a pizza in Mr. Hand's U.S. History class
  3. Spaceballs (1987) - Pizza the Hutt is a cheesy villain
  4. Mr. Deeds (2002) - Crazy Eyes loves french fries and Oreo cookies as pizza toppings
  5. Pizza! The Movie (2012) - Documentary about the World Pizza Championship in Italy
  6. 30 Minutes or Less (2011) - A tragic and true story about a pizza delivery man
  7. The Jerk (1979) - Cup o' Pizza - it's pizza in a cup!
  8. Pizza (2005) - A pizza deliveryman develops a bond with a girl nearly half his age
  9. The Net (1995) - Sandra Bullock makes history by ordering a pizza on the internet
  10. Pizza Man (2011) - No longer in the middle, Frankie Muniz gains pizza powers
What's your favourite pizza moment in a movie?


  1. Thanks for your comment, Ken. Just by looking at some of the photos on Facebook, I know it's not exactly the same as before. I'm sorry to hear that you were disappointed with your experience at Mother's. I'll reserve judgement until I can visit the restaurant in person.

    As for the 70's and 80's movies, I'm not sure they are considering showing some or if they were just engaging some conversation. It probably was in tribute to the restaurant's peak years being during those decades.

    You said the food was pretty good, so that's a positive thing. You should have said what you ordered. I'm curious to know if it was pizza, spaghetti or even a sub.

  2. I'm not much of a 'foodie', so to speak, but I know what I like. We had the Grandmother pizza. It was pretty good, though I don't really recall what it used to taste like so I can't compare. That said, the pizza had lots of toppings and was tasty, though it could have been just a little hotter.

    But when I go to a restaurant, food is only part of the experience for me. I am, however, a nostalgia buff, and that was what I was really looking forward to when we went - especially when all the social media hype before, during and ongoing even now is all about 'remember when'. Why drum up all that nostalgia in an effort to draw in customers who long to experience something from yesteryear and then not deliver? It doesn't make sense to me. I'd be like if a movie released a teaser trailer that promises something amazing and then barely delivers a final cut of the actual film.

    To me anyway, the lure of nostalgia was what made me want to go. I didn't expect it to be exactly like it was, but in the paper I read that they were doing what they can to preserve the old with a smattering of the new. But when I was there it seemed just the opposite to me. In fact, there is a relatively new diner down the road that also has very good food and almost the exact same atmosphere. I could have been in either of them and not really known the difference. In both cases it's like they had a really good idea and then didn't take the time to actually do anything with it. In my opinion, Kelsey's atmosphere is more like old Mother's than New Mother's is. And not being a 'foodie', atmosphere counts for a lot, especially when it's part of what people know and love and long to return to.

    So... all in all I'd give food itself maybe 8/10. Good. Not great.

    The service was fantastic! Fast and friendly, it gets 10/10.

    Atmosphere gets a very generous 6/10, only because I don't want to lower anyone's self esteem.

    Bottom line: I'm in no rush to go back.

  3. Fair enough. I agree about the atmosphere counting for a lot. I put a lot of stock in that too. You're right about Kelsey's too.

    Maybe you're right about Mother's promising lots of nostalgia and not delivering on the goods. For most though, they might just say, "close enough" and just be glad they have a nice family restaurant they can go to.

    Could you see the movies from where you were sitting? If so, could you tell what was playing?

    Thanks for giving your ratings.

  4. I could see the movies but I was in a booth facing the TV. My wife was on the other side and could not see the TV, nor, logically, could anyone either at the front of the dining room or in a booth not facing the front of the room. As for what was on, it appeared to be some sort of compilation DVD but the shorts were not the greats like Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, etc. as they had been back in the day.

    Again, it's almost like someone said, "We should try to do what Mother's used to do" but had only the vaguest memory of what that actually was.

    And 'close enough' should never be enough when it's something so iconic and near and dear to the heart for a great number of people.

    If Elvis came back tomorrow and put on a jump suit with a few Beadazzler beads on it and said "close enough", I doubt many people would agree that it's close enough.

  5. OK. Thanks for your comments, Ken.

  6. UPDATE: Mother's has now opened a second location in Kitchener at the address 4391 King Street East Kitchener, ON N2P 2G1

  7. UPDATE #2: Mother's is opening a new restaurant in Brantford, ON.


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