Jeff Tolliver is one of only three Pantera’s Pizza owners left standing.
In the early ’80s, the popular chain boasted about 50 restaurants in the St. Louis region. Then it acquired the Pizza Inn company and many Godfather’s locations and went bankrupt.
Today, Jeff owns the Pantera’s in Edwardsville. There’s a second restaurant in O’Fallon, Mo., and a drive-through location in Hazelwood, Mo.
“We stuck with it and did what needed to be done to keep it going,” said Jeff, 59, of Edwardsville.
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He gives at least partial credit to loyal customers. Some drive long distances because they miss the old Pantera’s in Belleville, Fairview Heights, Collinsville, Granite City, Wood River and East Alton.
“We’ve always done well, but the past two years, business has really been good with the low gas prices,” Jeff said.
The restaurant serves pizza with thick, thin or New York-style medium crust and a choice of about 15 ingredients ($9.89 to $14.99 for one topping).
“All of our dough is made from scratch,” said General Manager Jack Tolliver, 37, of Edwardsville, who is Jeff’s nephew.
Pantera’s signature pizza is The Hunk, loaded with extra ingredients. A large combo with pepperoni, beef sausage, mushrooms, black olives and onions weighs five pounds ($23.99).
(The Hunk was) all we had in the beginning. That’s how we built our reputation. Then we fanned out to attract other customers. Some people like to eat lighter.
Jeff Tolliver on pizza with extra ingredients
“That’s all we had in the beginning,” Jeff said. “That’s how we built our reputation. Then we fanned out to attract other customers. Some people like to eat lighter.”
The restaurant also serves spaghetti, buffalo wings, toasted garlic bread, bread sticks and a few sandwiches, including Roast Beef, Canadian Ham, Sliced Turkey and Pantera’s Premo with smoked ham, salami and mozzarella ($5.99).
An all-you-can-eat Express Buffet with pizza, salad, spaghetti and apple or cherry “pizzert” is available for $6.49 at lunchtime every day except Saturday and 5 to 8 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays.
Pantera’s is particularly popular with families, and youth sports teams take advantage of several long, banquet-style tables.
“Tuesday is kids night, so kids eat free,” Jack said. “You get two kids meals for every adult buffet. It’s a good deal. It’s a crowded night in here, usually.”
Jack has managed the restaurant about six years. Assistant Manager Lynne Fear has been working at Pantera’s more than 25 years.
“We get a little new equipment here and there, but when it comes to the food, we’ve kept our old recipes and our same suppliers,” she said. “We try to keep everything like people remember from the old days.”
3 Number of Pantera’s restaurants left
33 Years Edwardsville location in business
The late Tom Hooks opened the Edwardsville Pantera’s in 1982 in Montclaire Center strip mall. He also owned Fairview Heights and Collinsville locations. Jeff served as general manager.
Pantera’s acquired Pizza Inn in 1987 and declared bankruptcy two years later.
“Their intention was to change all the Pantera’s to Pizza Inn, but that never happened,” Jeff said. “They went out of business. A lot of the franchisees didn’t want to change the name anyway because we were doing quite well as a regional chain.”
Around the same time as the bankruptcy, Tom died and left his restaurants to Jeff and Tom’s brother, Rick, now a silent partner in Edwardsville.
The giant storefront space has a wall of windows and enough tables to seat about 135 people. Two elevated sections are lined with dark paneling and booths under pergolas with pendulum glass lamps, giving them a retro feel.
When it comes to the food, we’ve kept our old recipes and our same suppliers. We try to keep everything like people remember from the old days.
Lynne Fear on Pantera’s philosophy
A colorful mural shows a Pantera’s hot-air balloon floating over a lake, a reminder of the chain’s heyday, when it owned a balloon for advertising.
“That’s where all the sports teams take their pictures,” Jeff said.
Pantera’s customers order at the counter. Domestic beers, including pitchers, are available on tap. People can play music on a jukebox.
“It’s family friendly,” Jack said. “We have a game room for the kids to play in.”
At a glance
- What: Pantera’s Pizza
- Where: 1522 Troy Road in Edwardsville (Montclaire Center)
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
- Seating: About 135
- Handicap accessible: Yes
- Carryouts: Yes
- Delivery: Yes
- Information: Call 618-692-6000 or visit Facebook
On the menu
- Express Buffet — All-you-can-eat pizza, spaghetti, salad and “pizzert” from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays through Fridays and 5 to 8 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, $6.49 (free for two kids on Tuesdays with adult purchase)
- Combo Hunk Pizza — Thick housemade crust with extra pepperoni, beef sausage, mushrooms, black olives, onions, sauce and cheese, $15.75 to $23.99
- Regular Pizzas — Thick, thin or New York-style housemade crust with choice of about 15 ingredients, $9.89 to $14.99 for one topping ($1.25 to $1.75 for additional)