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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: Colombo's

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Andrew Krieder

In the summer of 1984, I was just sixteen years old. Fresh-faced, a child really. And that was the summer I was introduced to the three most exciting things America had to offer. Girls, movies and pizza. I had come from England to visit Goshen, and sometime during July I ended up going out to see the number-one movie, Ghostbusters, at the Concord Mall movie theater. It was an unforgettable night for me. First of all the company – I didn’t go alone: I was picked up at my grandparents’ house by two high school girls. In a car. That they could drive! This in itself would have been enough for me. But then, before we even got to the movie, we went out to a hot new restaurant on the south side of Elkhart for pizza. The most amazing pizza I had ever tasted. Colombo’s.

Colombo’s was a small restaurant, set on South Main Street between Lusher and Hively Avenues. The red brick building held a dining room in the front and a carryout in the back. By the street was a large sign with the restaurant’s name and a space to advertise the special of the day. To me it looked like every local restaurant I had ever seen in American TV shows. Going into the dimly lit dining room, the booths were cramped, the tables set close together. The door to the kitchen slammed as wait staff came hurrying through with food. On each table, a red tablecloth was adorned with placemats bearing the map of Italy. The food was standard family Italian restaurant fare. Generous amounts of pasta, homemade marinara sauce and a house Italian dressing. But my companions let me know, we weren’t there for the pasta. We were only there for pizza. Trust us, they said, and ordered for the whole table.

Looking across the restaurant, I realized that everyone around us was also ordering the pizza. I watched food arriving at other tables. Colombo’s crust was on the generous side, the sauce was evidently tangy, and the cheese plentiful. The pizzas came out on metal serving platters. Small pizzas could sit directly on the table. Larger ones required a stand which would place the pizza above the rest of the table, putting the slices even closer to one’s eye line. One table of seven sat around the largest pizza I had ever seen. None of them were speaking, they were just eating with eyes closed. By the time our pizza arrived, I was convinced I was about to participate in a spiritual experience. Cutting and serving the pizza, the warm cheese left a trail of strings from platter to plate. It was a glorious, messy delight for the senses. I didn’t know whether to use a fork or my fingers, so I did a bit of both. The girls laughed and we all ate till we couldn’t take another slice.

That night was the start of a lifelong obsession for me. For long after the awkward social interactions of the evening had faded, long after I had forgotten about the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, my relationship with Colombo’s pizza had been carved on my heart.

It was eight years after that first visit that I moved to Elkhart. The neighborhood kids from Goshen had moved on, the movie theatres had changed hands, but Colombo’s was still going strong. The house we bought was five minutes’ drive from Colombo’s. And very soon we established a pattern of Friday night pizza. In our early years, this meant dining in, fighting the crowds before Concord sports events. After kids came along, we learned the best ways to park a minivan in the tight parking lot, ready to run in and pick up carryout. And that carried on for almost 30 years.

But Covid and staffing problems dealt Colombo’s a terrible hand in 2020. They closed the dining room and did only carryout, until the following October, when a sign went up on the carryout door stating that they were closing for three months, with the hope of reevaluating after that. A year later, the building remains empty. I drive past there several times a week, and still catch myself looking to see what the special of the day is. I dream of seeing their doors open again.

Now I must recognize that Elkhart is absurdly blessed with family pizza restaurants of the highest quality. Antonio’s, Davinci’s, Bruno’s, Milano’s, Volcanos, Michael’s and many more. Each of which could hold its own in any pizza contest in the country.

But I didn’t fall in love with them when I was sixteen.

Colombo’s was my first love, and I’ll never forget.

Music: Theme from Ghostbusters by Ray Parker

Andrew Kreider was born and raised in London, England. He moved to Elkhart over twenty years ago, but somehow never totally lost his accent. Most weeks you will find him somewhere in the bowels of the Lerner Theater in Elkhart, where he works as a tech and as the audio and lighting designer for Premier Arts.