Pyramid Pizza closing brings memories of advertising schemes

Posted on Feb 11, 2020 in Campus News and News

Pyramid Pizza, a popular local pizza joint that endured various iterations, closed its doors last fall. Alumni and Lawrence residents mourned its passing and reminisced about Pyramid in a popular local Facebook group. Sean Williams, j’78, photographed many of Pyramid’s quirky advertising campaigns and shared some of his memories with us.

KU Cheer Squad with Pyramid Pizza boxes // photo courtesy of Sean Williams

I had a photography business shooting party pics for organized living groups on the KU campus. I also did ad shoots for Litwin’s, Pyramid and general mercenary work, including various KU political groups or individuals.

The photos for Pyramid merged my immersion in the fraternity, sorority and dorm life party pics business with pizza sales targeting that demographic. I frequently had extra photos from parties, and they would end up under glass at the Pyramid Pizza desk in the lower level of the Wagon Wheel Cafe.

John "Tan Man" Schneider on Wescoe Beach // courtesy of Sean Williams“We get it …”

I was studying advertising (and any photo course offering available), and Mark McKee, ’87, former owner of Pyramid, was practicing business and marketing. We collaborated on the “We get it …” ad campaign and had a blast imagining how to advertise Pyramid’s unique sales points as a way to “get it.” It seemed a relatively bold theme and we got a few clucking tongues from the administration, but we smiled and suggested that they get their minds out of the gutter because we were obviously talking about multiple methods of getting yummy pizza.

Tan Man” was featured in the first ad, as I recall, due to his enormous acceptance and fame with students, townsfolk, faculty, and all ages and persuasions. Tan Man “gets it whenever the sun shines …” Of course.

Late-night operators

I can’t remember all the other themes, but the “late-night operators” was my favorite. We staged the photographic shoot in a local veterinarian’s office (tight quarters) and used studio lights and detailed direction for the illustration (tilting the pizza and using a scalpel) to trumpet the availability after bar-closing hours.

Late night operators // Pyramid Pizza photo courtesy of Sean WilliamsShameless audacity

Mark’s chutzpah was most impressively displayed when he walked on stage at Allen Field House to deliver a pizza to Bob Hope, who was performing the KU Homecoming show in front of a packed house. Officials, audience members, and Hope himself thought that it was a planned part of the show, but it was just Mark, promoting that you could get it for a big event. Hope didn’t skip a beat, added a few jokes, and smoothed along. Mark and I both regretted that I didn’t have my camera in the audience and wasn’t assigned to shoot pics for KU that night.

I think KU officials reprimanded him for the photo of the KU cheer squad, taken before or after an organized practice (posing in a full squad pyramid with Pyramid Pizza boxes, they “get it in front of thousands …”). KU officials didn’t want the ads interpreted as an implied endorsement from the University, so I think he tamped that approach. In the meantime, the pizza’s popularity had taken off, Mark hired “Pizza Pete,” the locally famous manager of Pizza Hut, and advertising shifted to coupons and other themes.

Mark was an energetic, aggressive, positively ebullient and engaging personality driven to provide a great product in a popular fast food market in Lawrence. The Campus Hideaway, Green Pepper Pizza and other mom-and-pop shops arrived and disappeared while Pyramid expanded to Westport and multiple locations in Lawrence and elsewhere. Mark’s enthusiasm and drive for excellence prompted the success of the company, but as he launched into other ventures, quick-food competition exploded to put pressure on the Lawrence originals. Mark’s ardent promotion of Pyramid Pizza was truly the strong catalyst to Pyramid’s popularity as the primary meal choice for students who wanted to get it their way—one way or another.

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Campus icon ‘Tan Man’ to celebrate 75th birthday, and you’re all invited

Posted on Jun 20, 2018 in Campus News and News

John Schneider, more commonly known as the "Tan Man" at the University of Kansas
Wescoe Beach has been a central hub for KU students for decades, where students study, chat and chill between classes.

Thousands of students have spent time soaking up the sun in front of Wescoe. But KU students from the late 1960s through the 1980s remember one particular man’s legacy of relaxing on the beach.

John Schneider, more commonly known as “Tan Man,” spent the better part of three decades as a campus icon, sharing his charm and kindness with Jayhawks.

Alumni track down legend

John Schneider, more commonly known as the Celeste Gruhin, ’79, and her fiancé, Marc Jasperson,  b’78, were reminiscing about their times at KU when their memories of Tan Man came up. After some digging, the pair got in contact with him and met in Rose Hill, where he now lives. Schneider showed them his scrapbook of photos from KU, and Gruhin and Jasperson knew they wanted to help more alumni celebrate his role in KU and Lawrence lore.

Gruhin organized a get-together to celebrate Schneider’s 75th birthday. She created a Facebook event to help get the word out.

“The response has been crazy,” Gruhin said. “We’re hoping to keep the momentum going and make it a memorable event.”

The birthday party is set for 4-7 p.m. June 23 at Johnny’s Tavern in North Lawrence. The event is open to the public. Those who attend are invited to contribute photos of  “Tan Man” to be added to a scrapbook.

-Ryan Camenzind

Can’t make it to the party? Email your pictures and memories of Tan Man to us at share@kualumni.org, and we’ll be sure to pass them along so they can be included in the scrapbook! For more about Tan Man, check out the Lawrence Journal-World’s article from 2006. Watch for more coverage of the birthday celebration in the next issue of Kansas Alumni magazine.

 

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