In this day and age, the argument of where to go out to eat typically tends to revolve around eating at a chain or not.
While I’m not here to argue the validity of one point or another, I recently found out that one of DeLand’s most beloved pizza shops, Tom’s Pizza Shop, actually was part of a chain at one point in its almost-60-year history.
Tom’s Pizza, at 140 E. Rich Ave., isn’t the original Tom’s, but it is the last holdout for the once-popular Central Florida pizza franchise.
The history of Tom’s is a long one, with it all starting with — you guessed it — a man named Tom.
Tom Veigle started the Tom’s Pizza franchise in 1959. It had more than 50 different franchises at the peak of its popularity, in cities including DeLand, Sanford and Merritt Island.
Veigle was also behind the restaurant Beefy King in Orlando, which still operates today, and is most known for its steamed roast beef sandwiches.
“This store was opened in May of 1961,” said Lloyd Petro, the current owner of Tom’s.
“Bob Partington, the father of Robert Partington, the guy we bought the restaurant from, was the only one who bought all the original recipes from Tom,” Lloyd added, as he explained the downfall of the Tom’s franchise. The chain ultimately collapsed due to unforeseen personal circumstances that prompted Tom to sell his restaurants.
Lana Petro, who has been working at Tom’s since she was 17, met Lloyd one night while at work.
“She was working here when she got out of high school,” Lloyd said. “I came in one night for pizza, met her and asked her out the next day.”
Three months later, the couple were engaged, and three months after that, they were married.
The couple bought Tom’s from the Partingtons in 1985, and have owned it ever since.
It would seem that they owe much of their lives to Tom’s, and have grown with it as a family. Today, they consider their customers and employees just as much a part of their family as their real family.
Tom’s is a bit off the beaten path of Downtown DeLand, but it’s still only a short walk from Woodland Boulevard or a nearby parking lot on Rich Avenue.
Inside the restaurant, televisions showing photos of customers, employees, the Petro family and other close-to-home content reminded me how connected Tom’s is to DeLand.
If you visit Tom’s and want to have one of your photos featured in the restaurant, you can email the photos to email@example.com.
While the restaurant certainly attracts a lot of the local high school and Stetson University crowd, Lana and Lloyd said Tom’s isn’t just for the kids.
“We have people who come in from before [my time],” Lana said. “We’re very community-oriented.”
For my visit to Tom’s, I decided to invite friends, some of whom have had some connection to Tom’s and its long history.
We started out our meal with an order of appetizers.
The sampler basket comes with mozzarella sticks, broccoli bites, tater tots, fried raviolis and a serving of pizza sauce for dipping. We ordered two for our table.
Overall, the appetizers succeeded in leaving us fully appetized and ready for our entrees. Of course, you can’t visit a place like Tom’s without ordering pizza, and that’s exactly what we did.
I, along with my friend Kenny Lane, decided to split a large pizza — half pepperoni and half cheese.
“Our pepperoni is unique in that it cups up and gets crispy on the edges,” said Lloyd.
The couple also said they are the only place in the Southeast that uses this particular type of pepperoni.
Despite that, it reminds me of a kind I once tried at a place called Two Brothers Pizzeria & Restaurant in Miami. Just like Two Brothers, Tom’s pepperoni is small and bite-sized.
One of my guests said it was just the right size to where it wouldn’t get in the way when you take a bite into it.
Another way Tom’s differentiates itself is by serving its pizza in square slices, with each slice being thin and crispy. Most pizzerias only slice their Sicilian-style pies in square slices.
To help cut slices into easier-to-manage bits, they provide personal-sized pizza cutters.
My guest, Kenny, a lifelong DeLand resident, has a special connection to Tom’s and its cheese pizza.
“I’ve lived in DeLand all my life, but it’s probably been a good 20 years since I’d had Tom’s Pizza,” he said.
He recalled that, while growing up, he would spend time at his grandparents’ house while his parents took part in a Friday-night bowling league.
“My grandma would order a cheese pizza from Tom’s, and we’d share it while watching reruns on Nick at Nite. It’s among my most favorite memories of that time in my life,” he said.
“Eating that first slice of cheese pizza took me right back,” Kenny added. “It was as delicious and satisfying now as it was then.”
Another guest of mine, Amanda Twiddy, a known local pickle-lover, ordered a basket of fried pickles for herself and kindly shared some of them with the rest of the group.
The pickles were the small circular type that you typically find on a sandwich, otherwise known as “bread-and-butter” pickles.
Pickles of this variety are often considered to be sweeter, and Tom’s fried pickles were definitely on the sweeter side.
My other guests, Nikki Natriello and Devon Russell, each ordered a Reuben, one with corned beef and the other with turkey.
Despite the different meats, both sandwiches came served with sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese on a marbled bread, with a sweet Thousand Island dressing on the side.
Nikki told me afterward that her turkey Reuben had a hearty helping of turkey along with just the right amount of sauerkraut. With the Thousand Island dressing, it made every bite the perfect combination of sweet and sour.
When our lunch was coming to a close, I placed another order for two large pizzas to bring back to The Beacon, as requested by Beacon Publisher Barb Shepherd herself.
The pizza was gone in record time, with every employee enjoying it.
Barb recalled that when The Beacon’s office used to be on Indiana Avenue, steps away from Tom’s, the restaurant was a popular hangout for employees and their children.
Although pizzerias aren’t hard to come by, Tom’s is one of a kind, and it has the history and customer base to prove it.
On Feb. 15, Lloyd and Lana celebrated 35 years of owning Tom’s Pizza. Be sure to stop in and help celebrate this longtime slice of Downtown DeLand!