Barnsdall’s Uptown Pizza brings special flavor to area

Robert Smith rsmith@pawhuskajournalcapital.com
Cheryl and Mike Chuning display some of their delectable dishes at Uptown Pizza & More in Barnsdall. The retired teacher and retired postman bring their own special hospitality to the town’s business district. Robert Smith/Journal-Capital

BARNSDALL — This is a sleepy little town of just under 1,200 souls, with a winding ribbon of two-lane state highway as its lifeline, but its emerging restaurant scene is enough to make your mouth water and your hands turn the steering wheel in its direction.

You can get a mean chicken fry from Jimmy Hatfield, across from the Baker Hughes plant, or sandwiches and soup from the Sweet Scripture sisters, but the eye-catching spot on the downtown landscape is Uptown Pizza & More, which offers homemade pizza and barbecue just a hop from the famous Main Street oil well.

Ingredients like pizza dough and tomato sauce are not pre-ordered; they’re made on-site. Uptown Pizza has been open since May of 2014.

The long white building with the drive-through window on the east and the baker/chef figure out front is an immediate eye-catcher, but what’ll bring you back is the charm and good humor of proprietors Mike and Carol Chuning, a retired mail carrier and a retired fifth-grade teacher.

Mike blends a sharp eye for wit and humorous stories with a self-effacing sense of his place in the cosmos. A pleased father of three sons who are doing well and show promise of much future achievement, he nonetheless says with a smile, “They didn’t get it from me.” He is also a self-described connoisseur of Dr. Pepper, just in case you have opinions on the subject.

Mike Chuning, 62, has lived in Barnsdall most of his life. His family moved there in the 1960s, and his father taught fifth grade. The family lived in a school-housing house. When Mr. Chuning retired, Cheryl was the person hired to fill the vacancy. Two or three years later, Mike and Cheryl started dating, and when they married he moved back into the same school-housing house.

“I really liked that house,” Mike quips with a disarming smile. Cheryl says her husband’s outgoing ability to relate to people brings a lot of folks to the restaurant to visit with him.

The building where Uptown Pizza is located has had several owners, but while Mike and Cheryl have added onto the structure by putting an overhead cover on the space by the drive-through window and enclosing the west end as a part of the building rather than an outside patio, they have also maintained an eye for the endearing aspects of its past history as a restaurant.

For instance, the Chunings recently bought an ice cream machine so they can soon offer to serve “Flying Saucers” — a round disc of ice cream dipped in chocolate and mounted on a stick. What is now Uptown Pizza has previously been called by names such as Dairy-Go-Round and Fat Boy’s.

Among the items Mike and Cheryl have added is the baker/chef figure out front. Their sons named it “Chunseppi,” Cheryl says with a smile.

“They thought if you put the end ‘seppi’ on anything, it made it Italian,” she says. Visitors frequently stop to take photos with Chunseppi, and to photograph the oil well across the way, and to ask about movie star Clark Gable and beauty queen and orange juice promoter Anita Bryant, who reportedly lived in Barnsdall back in the day.

Mike explains he found Chunseppi in Arkansas at a closed restaurant. He hauled it to Barnsdall on the back of his pickup and enjoyed the stares he got from other motorists.

“I had the biggest fun hauling it back,” he said. “I’m big on goofy stuff.”

In addition to adding to the building and the decor, Mike and Cheryl have continued to add to their menu. They offer barbecue on Fridays and Saturdays — ribs, brisket, pork, sausage, hot links and bologna, but no chicken yet. They let customers know the barbecue is available by displaying the plywood side of a pig-shaped menu board in the window along Main Street. They recently started offering sides such as baked beans and slaw with the barbecue.

Mike and Cheryl’s endeavor may be a work in progress, but Mike emphasizes their entrepreneurial spirit is amply tempered by a neighborly outlook.

“It’s kind of like family here in Barnsdall,” Mike said. He and Cheryl don’t particularly think of other local restaurants as competition, he said. “Matter of fact, I ate down at Jimmy’s yesterday. I ate a chicken-fried steak.”

Mike and Cheryl say they enjoy being a part of the community — offering extra pizzas and special rates when they can; cultivating relationships with the local schools and with churches. They officially don’t do delivery, but Cheryl has been known to walk food down the street to customers.

The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. They are closed Sundays. If you need to call, the number is 918-847-3711.