Next year marks the 40th anniversary of Dirty Dave’s Pizza Parlor introducing its delicious thin and crispy pizza to the Olympia area.
Greg Wilson, part-owner of Dirty Dave’s with his older brother Tom – their father is the Dirty Dave – was nine years old when Dave Wilson closed his gay 90s pizza parlor in Redlands, California, and moved the family to Olympia.
The original Dirty Dave’s Pizza Parlor opened on Pacific Avenue in 1972; Dave constructed the pizzeria’s current building on Martin Way in 1979.
The restaurant’s memorable moniker? It comes from Dave’s long-time nickname. “Technically, I don’t think I’m old enough to even know [the story behind the nickname],” says Greg. “It’s just always been around as long as I have. I always assumed it was because of his sense of humor; he’s always been a little blue in his sense of humor.”
Dirty Dave’s is wholeheartedly a family affair.
“My brother’s been here since 1976,” explains Greg, who shares managing duties with Tom. “I didn’t start until 1986. I spent the first 11 years of my career, from 13 to 24, over at Los Hermanos, which was a Mexican restaurant we’d started after building this one.”
Greg and Tom’s sister Toni, the middle Wilson sibling, managed a second family pizza parlor on Olympia’s west side, and then when it moved to Yelm. She now works with her son at Ricardo’s Italian restaurant on Lacey Boulevard.
“We all started off washing dishes and cooking,” says Greg. “The only thing I haven’t done is roll dough; my brother, he rolls dough. The only thing he doesn’t do is the office work that I do.”
Their mother, Lorna, was instrumental in the success of the family restaurants, working in the eateries as they got off the ground. But her main focus was always on the family’s home life: “She got the joy of staying home and raising three kids,” Greg says with a laugh.
“She did the books for this restaurant until I became the manager about 15 years ago. I converted everything over to computer, and then I had to let her go,” Greg jokes.
Tom and Greg handle all the day-to-day operations, but Dirty Dave is still very much on the scene. Most days he at least pops in for lunch.
A friendly face, always happy to stop and chat, Dave – whether present on not – looms large over this family-friendly pizzeria.
The workday at Dirty Dave’s starts early, though doors don’t open until lunch. “I’m proud to say I have guys here at seven in the morning every day,” says Greg Wilson, “because we make nearly all our food from scratch, daily.” Unlike so many chains, where everything often comes out of cans and bags – prefabbed and preformed.
This attention to authentic fare shines through in every dish. From thin and crispy pizzas to a bounty of submarine sandwiches, salads, and pasta options, Dirty Dave’s eats harken back to a time of meals cooked to order from fresh ingredients, with friendly service and comfortable surroundings. Guests are greeted by – and contribute to – a plethora of colorful memorabilia covering nearly every surface of the restaurant.
“Everybody likes different types of pizza and food, so you either like us or you don’t,” says Greg. “Because we’ve been here so long, it seems like we’re most popular with generations of people.”
People come in not just because they adore the food, but also because they love that feeling of history. They grew up coming to Dirty Dave’s, and want to share it with their kids.
Greg describes one ongoing tradition for longtime Dirty Dave’s patrons: “There’s the little chicken machine that you put a quarter in and it drop an egg with a toy in it. Parents come in and say, ‘Oh yeah, I used to go straight to the chicken machine.’ You see the grandparents, the parents, and the new generation.”
Folks who move away always make time for a return visit to Dirty Dave’s whenever they’re back home.
“When people come to town, it’s like, ‘Well, I’ve got to stop in and get my Jake sandwich or my Gay 90s special,’” he says.
The Jake is so popular, the sandwich gets front-and-center mention on the restaurant’s roadside sign. Ham, salami and pepperoni are heaped on a soft French roll, broiled with cheese, and then finished with spiced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and Italian dressing.
“Everybody puts all kinds of stuff on pizza now, but we’ve had the cashews since we began,” explains Greg. His father tells stories of the early days, in his California pizzeria, of the bags of beer nuts and cashews that were sold to bar customers.
“That was bar food, back in the day,” Greg continues, “and one day somebody decided to tear open a bag of cashews and try it on a pizza.”
A classic was born.
“It’s a great combination, and our most popular house special,” says Greg. Just how special? “We spend about a thousand dollars a month on cashews alone.”
Dirty Dave’s Pizza Parlor
3939 Martin Way E.
Olympia WA 98506