Big Ed’s Pizza Carries On Traditions
Since it opened in 1970, Big Ed’s Pizza has become a culinary landmark in East Tennessee. Known for its nostalgic atmosphere, Big Ed’s focuses on creating delicious pies from homemade ingredients and traditional recipes.
“We make the dough and sauce from scratch using the same recipe Big Ed Neusel used when he opened the restaurant 46 years ago,” says Jon Harris, general manager. “We get our cheese shipped straight from Wisconsin and shred it ourselves.” Restaurant workers also grind and spice sausage and hamburger meat and chop vegetables in-house.
“Big Ed” Neusel founded the restaurant after retiring from the U.S. Marine Corps, where he served as a military sniper during World War II. “He collected memorabilia during his time in the service, and we have lots of it on our walls,” Harris says. “We also have a lot of sports memorabilia from local teams, from 1970 through today.”
When Big Ed died in 1998, his son took over the business. “David passed away about three years ago, and now his wife, Melissa, owns the restaurant,” Harris says. “The Neusel family is rooted in the Oak Ridge community, and they’ve always been very generous. We’ve employed a lot of local teens – there are families where the parents worked here in the ’70s and ’80s, and now their kids work here.”
The kitchen is a large glass enclosure where customers can gather to watch the action. “We stretch the crust and twirl it in the air by hand,” Harris says. “People come up and stand at the glass and we’ll give them samples of our cheese.” Once a pizza is cooked, bakers cut it with 10-inch shears.
Big Ed’s is known for its traditional homemade crust. “People would call it hand-tossed but it’s not fluffy – it’s chewy,” Harris says. “High in gluten, but crispy at the same time.”
Well-known menu items include the Big Ed’s Special, with ham, sausage, mushroom, onion and green peppers. “It’s been the special for as long as anyone can remember,” Harris says.
Traditions stand firm at the restaurant, where current workers strive to preserve the memories of previous decades and keep the experience consistent for returning customers. “Anytime there’s a holiday when people are here visiting, we’ll get lots of large groups,” Harris says. “Coming to Big Ed’s is a family tradition for many in this area.”
If You Go...
Location: 101 Broadway Ave., Oak Ridge, TN 37830
Phone: (865) 482-4885
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Closed Sundays.