By Ammie Bryant, Editor Photos provided by Marti Dermer and The Original Hideaway Pizza.
Born at home in 1939, at the corner of Ramsey and University, Richard Dermer spent his first twenty-five years living–and the rest of his life working–just blocks from campus. His father was a Chemistry professor at OAMC and Richard attended the early childhood program on campus. Richard just accepted as a matter of fact that someday he would go to college there too. “I am very much a child of OSU,” said Richard in a 2009 interview with Latasha Wilson, for O-STATE Stories, an Oral History Project of the OSU Library.
In February of 1957, the year Richard graduated high school and enrolled at OSU, the Campus Hideaway Pizzeria opened up at 519 W. Third Ave. Les Gerig opened the first Campus Hideaway Pizzeria in Lawrence, KS–the first pizzeria west of the Mississippi before eventually opening his fifth location in Stillwater. The first restaurant of its kind in Stillwater, it was only the second pizza place in Oklahoma. Not long after it opened, Richard decided to take his high school sweetheart, Marti, to try this new fad. He and Marti had never eaten pizza before.
The location was small, with only twelve tables, each capable of seating four people. There were no decorations and the menu was posted on the wall. Richard and Marti ordered a small cheese pizza for 90 cents. This was exorbitant, according to Richard, who said that he could buy three hamburgers for that much at the time.
Richard and Marti’s first experience with pizza made a lasting impression. “After ten or twelve minutes, he came out with this thing on a metal paddle and set it down in front of us, a couple of…bottles of coke with straws in the top, turned around and disappeared in the back again. We sat there and looked at this thing. No plates, no forks, there were napkins stuck in a water glass, just rolled up and stuck in a water glass on the table. I couldn’t figure out how to eat the damn thing. So I walked back looking for this guy who had brought it to us; I couldn’t find him. We were the only customers in the place. I did find a drink station with a coffee pot and cups and saucers and spoons. So I snagged a couple of coffee saucers and spoons and brought them back out and we ate our first pizza with spoons and coffee saucers. I wasn’t real impressed.”
That fall Richard got a job at the Campus Hideaway delivering pizzas for 75 cents per hour during his freshman year of college. His sophomore year he worked for another pizza place that had opened up on Washington and then returned to the Campus Hideaway his Junior year in 1960. That year, the owner decided to sell Stillwater’s Campus Hideaway. It wasn’t making any money in the early days. Pizza had not really caught on.
At the age of 20, when Richard and Marti were young newlyweds, Richard bought the Hideaway as a source of income to put them through school. She was a freshman and he was a junior. “I had to wait a week to turn 21 to apply for my Oklahoma beer license,” said Richard.
Richard and his brother-in-law partnered to make the $4,000 down payment with the remaining $6,000 purchased on credit. They improved the quality of the food, put on more toppings, and made the Hideaway a fun place to be with courteous service. The results were an increase in sales from an average of $90 per day to $300. Soon they were able to pay off the remainder of the debt. By 1962, Richard’s brother-in-law decided he wanted out of the business. Richard bought his half of the operation for $10,000.
The business grew and with the small dining area in the old location often filled to capacity, the demand for delivery grew as well. Over the next decade, Richard built a fleet of VW Beetles that served as delivery vehicles. The store owned the Beetles and had active insurance on about a dozen at any given time, usually with 9 or 10 of them actually running. He stuck to the 1960s era Bug because he could swap out parts easily. He even had a full time mechanic on staff at one time.
“By the time I was really in full swing, buying a typical delivery car would cost me about $500 and it would last me a year or two before it was junk and then part of it I could use in the next one…. I had a huge stockpile of broken down junkers stored in a field outside of town where we could go out and pirate parts to keep trying to patch the fleet together…. But I finally decided it was just too expensive to keep them running and started phasing them out and eventually phased them all out in the mid-nineties. I had old titles for over 75 Beetles that I had owned. I think probably the total count might have approached 80 or 90.”
During the 1960s and ‘70s, the Hideaway’s sales were 50% dine-in and 50% delivery. In 1980, the Hideaway moved to its current location on Knoblock where they more than doubled their square footage, opened earlier to serve lunch, and significantly increasing their dine-in sales.
For many years the old Campus Theater remained empty on the corner of University and Knoblock next to the Hideaway. The Dermers bought the building, tore it down, and expanded the restaurant to the north doubling square footage. The brick wall that runs through the middle of the restaurant today is the original shared wall from the theater.
Since the Hideaway opened in 1957 in that little hole-in-the-wall location it has grown exponentially. Back then it was a two or three person operation. Today, it employs more than seventy people, primarily college students. Richard operated the Hideaway with the understanding that if you produced a quality product and hired quality people and kept them happy the rest would fall into place. A big part of that formula had the strong foundation of a family atmosphere where the employees knew that Richard and Marti cared about them–cared enough that Richard even checked their grades to make sure they were not struggling.
The Hideaway is a Stillwater tradition where memories have been made by thousands of students, alumni, and townspeople through the past six decades. Generations of Stillwater children will always remember the VW Bug coloring pages and Richard’s extensive kite collection that adorns the walls. From the invention of the board game, Pente, and the iconic Hideaway collage which was created at the old location in the ‘70s by a theater major and was re-created at the new location by Marti, the Hideaway is an essential part of Stillwater’s story.
Richard passed away on March 14, 2014, “Pie Day.” Since his passing, the Hideaway has continued to serve great pizza and the kind of atmosphere and service that keeps customers coming back over and over again. Marti Dermer checks in on operations daily and says that the place is in good hands under the management of Bryce Singleton who has been a part of the Hideaway family for twenty-five years. “He’s a Stillwater kid,” said Marti, “he graduated with our younger son, Craig, from Stillwater High.” Their other son, Rick comes in and helps when he’s not occupied by his full-time day job.
Former employees continue to visit and in some cases send in their kids to apply for a job when they get to college–there have been several “legacy” employees through the years. The last employee picture was taken in 2014 and Marti says they are due for another one. They’ll try after spring break when everyone is back from their travels and they can figure out the logistics of getting everyone together for it.
While there is now a growing chain of restaurants going by the “Hideaway” name where they use many of the same recipes (except the crust!), Stillwater’s Original Hideaway Pizza remains one of a kind. The atmosphere cannot be replicated because its story is rooted in the Stillwater’s unique culture and history which is inextricably tied to and in many ways defined by the presence of Oklahoma State University and the students who provide the workforce of the pizzeria. But it is undoubtedly the example set by Richard and Marti Dermer that is the heart of what makes the Hideaway special. Richard understood and Marti and the Hideaway management team led by Bryce, continue to understand that when you provide a quality product and hire quality people and keep them happy that will translate to happy customers and success will follow.
Editor’s note: Richard Dermer passed away in 2014 and his presence is greatly missed by friends, family, and community members. We were very thankful to discover that Mr. Dermer had been interviewed in 2009 as part of O-STATE Stories, an Oral History Project at Oklahoma State University. Any quotations in this article by Dermer were taken from that interview. Additionally, we interviewed Mrs. Marti Dermer and Bryce Singleton, Manager of Hideaway Pizza.