Only one year after its 1953 opening, Herb and Evelyn Friedman wisely relocated their Northlake Tavern near Seattle’s University of Washington campus. Hungry college kids embraced the pizza they added to the menu six years later, and by 1974 the Friedmans touted their pies as the “best darn pizza anywhere” while adding “& Pizza House” to the business name.

After decades of success, Cheryl Berkovich-Winzenread and her husband took over in the 1980s, then passed the baton to a man who simply went by the name Abdullah, who’d worked at the restaurant since 1981, until he decided to retire in early 2023.

Fortunately, a brand that has been steadily growing since its 2010 debut (with three additional locations in Seattle, plus another coming this fall) was ready to step in and continue the pizzeria’s legacy. Jason Lajeunesse, founder and CEO of Daydream State, which owns and operates the Big Mario’s New York Style Pizza brand, spent six weeks with Abdullah—a crash course in operating this historic spot. The process cemented his mission of restoring and rehabbing the pizzeria, infusing new energy and a fresh approach rather than seeing its doors closed forever.

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The new owners initially anticipated a two-month break for cleaning and kitchen work, but the project turned out to be a seven-month-long, full-blown restoration project. Workers put painstaking care into rebuilding and refurbishing the original bar, booths and stools. Much of the memorabilia was carefully preserved, including a collection of cartoons by Seattle’s Pulitzer Prize-winning David Horsey, which are being rehung throughout the building.

Additional updates abound, including the addition of Big Mario’s New York-style whole pies and slices, full bar, games, takeout window, all-ages seating, retail takeout section (with beer, wine, slices and snacks), and a private event space.

In homage to the former business, Big Mario’s will offer two of Northlake’s most cherished specialty pie topping combinations, plus the Northlake Lager, created in partnership with Fremont Brewing Co. “Northlake Tavern was a favorite destination for Seattle, including UW students, alumni and their families, over many years,” Lajeunesse explains. “It was important to us to keep the core tenets of Northlake intact.”

In recognition of the Northlake Tavern’s 70-year legacy, the brand, along with Big Mario’s, was named to PMQ’s Pizza Hall of Fame and is spotlighted in the October 2023 issue.