Thanks for the memories, Godfather's!

On Sunday, the Godfather’s Pizza location on Highway 1 in Iowa City closed for good. My family spent many weekend nights there when I was a kid, so last Thursday we gathered to have one last dinner there for old-time’s sake.

I was very bummed to hear Godfather’s was closing. The news was especially crushing because I had just learned the Kalona Cheese Factory, another family favorite, had closed. (The cheese curd from Kalona was unbelievable! One-pound bags were always at family gatherings.) Not only was the Godfather’s on Highway 1 the last of two Godfather’s locations in Iowa City (the other was downtown where the Iowa Artisan Gallery is located), it was a timeless throwback to my youth, a place that had almost never changed for as long as I could remember. Sure, the paint scheme changed (for a long time a red and green stripe bounced across the walls like the trail of a heartbeat monitor), as did the games in the arcade. But Godfather’s remained mostly unchanged and served as a comforting constant soaked with good memories and nostalgia for the last two decades.

Though I do not have many distinct memories there, the ambience is what I remember most. That place would be packed and rockin’ on Saturday nights back in the day. All the tables and booths would be filled. The call of pizza orders over the speakers was barely audible over the din of excited chatter and laugher. In the corners, people watched football or basketball games on the single, wall-mounted TVs. Everyone eventually huddled around big pizza pies, pulling slices onto their plates and quenching their thirst with beer or pop poured from plastic pitchers.

We often ate at Godfather’s with family friends or my aunt, uncle, and cousins, so I remember the camaraderie and kinship, too. Us kids spent a lot of time in the dark, little arcade before our pizzas were ready. I would return to the table to beg for dollar bills, which I would break at the counter.

We almost always parked in the back and walked in under the green and red awning that extended from the back door. We did the same last Thursday, though the fabric of the awning was gone, leaving the metal skeleton naked. For our last dinner we ordered two large pizzas — a taco and a half-cheese, half-veggie — and an order of breadsticks. Mmm…

I made sure to bring my camera and snapped a couple pictures.

(My mom said a fire would be burning in the fireplace during the winter, but I don’t remember that.)

After enjoying a couple slices, I walked up to the counter, exchanged a dollar bill for four quarters just as I did when I was a kid, and headed to the arcade. (There was absolutely no way I was going to visit Godfather’s one last time without visiting the arcade.) Though it had been crowded with kids earlier that night, the arcade was empty when I walked in. I played The Simpson’s for about five minutes, then let Homer die on purpose and moved to Galaga. The “fire” button was good and worn in, allowing for rapid fire. I let my first fighter be captured, then recovered it and dominated with two fighters for a few minutes. When I finally died, I thought about playing the Tron pinball machine, but decided against it.

On our way out, my mom and I lingered in the walkway by the arcade, taking a couple last pictures. (I opted to turn off the flash and set my camera on a steady surface.)

I’m a very sentimental man, so it was hard to walk out the back door one last time without my emotions getting the best of me. Though the building will remain and another restaurant could open there (it was a Shakey’s Pizza before it was Godfather’s), I don’t think it will be the same for me. As we headed out, my mom said something to me but I could not open my mouth, could not say anything, without betraying my emotion. I did not say anything at all

After taking a couple last pictures, I opened the back door and walked outside under the stripped awning.

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