In the third of the series pairing Cityview’s Top Entrepreneurs with compelling Knoxvillians, Peroulas and Clancy meet before the lunch crowd arrives—and share onion rings—at PIZZA PALACE on Magnolia Avenue.
Paula Clancy is a 2012 Cityview Entrepreneur and the owner of Nouveau Classics, a contemporary “modern classic” furniture and interior design business located on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville.
Paula Clancy: After your family moved to the United States from Greece, how did they end up running a pizza place in Knoxville?
Charlie Peroulas: My father, Arthur, and his brothers, Al and Gus, came to Knoxville in the mid-to-late 1950s, and they started working as dishwashers. They pooled their money and started Pizza Palace in 1961. Pizza wasn’t widely available in Knoxville so they decided to take a chance—and it was an instant success.
PC: Did your family own other restaurants in Knoxville?
CP: We owned the old Pero’s on Kingston Pike, which is now a BB&T, and Louis’ on Broadway. My family was part of the original Louis’, but there were disagreements among the partners, and then there were two Louis’ right next to each other. My family lost the second Louis’ during the expansion of I-640. Afterwards we chose to focus our energies on Pizza Palace.
PC: How old were you when you started working in the business?
CP: I started working in the restaurant business when I was 15. It was about a week after summer vacation started, and we were at the breakfast table, and my father asked me what my plans were for the summer. As a 15-year-old, I had plans to go to the pool and hang out with my friends. My dad told me that his car left the next morning at 10 a.m. and I’d better be in it. So: no discussion, no salary negotiation.
PC: And later you took over the business?
CP: After high school, I went to Emory University, and, after I graduated with a business degree, for a while I stayed in Atlanta. My dad was giving me advice, and he said that if I wanted to be in the restaurant business, then I had better know how to cook! What better place to learn than the Culinary Institute of America in New York? I attended for two years and then I moved back here in 1997.
PC: You took over then?
CP: My dad was still working, and my uncle was here as well. Slowly, Dad started handing me the reins. He passed away in 2002. I had been here five years, so I had a good grasp of how to keep the business going successfully. My uncle passed away nine months later, so that’s when it really all fell on me.
PC: I notice that it seems like not much has changed here. I can help you with that if you’d like to make any changes!
CP: I’m sure you could!
PC: Is your philosophy at the Pizza Palace, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?
CP: Our menu today is very similar to the original menu—it’s worked for 51 years!
PC: You were on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins & and Dives!
CP: We didn’t know what to expect! And five years later, because the show airs in reruns, we get people who want to experience what they have seen. We’ve met people from every state and some from overseas as well. I count my blessings everyday that I don’t have to search out customers—it’s just automatic here. I recognize that and appreciate it very much. It would be tough to start a new business.
PC: What is your favorite food here?
CP: Onion rings are my weakness. I eat them every day.
CP: Oh yeah, at least a couple. I mean, I don’t eat too many, but I do eat a couple a day—just to test the quality!