The kites & pizza hideaway restaurant across the street from the Oklahoma State University campus in Stillwater, Oklahoma is an institution. The doors at the original restaurant opened for business in 1957 making this one of the oldest pizza parlors in the Sooner State. With an unshakable belief that pizza would become bigger than hamburgers, Richard Dermer acquired the restaurant in 1960 after working as a delivery driver for several years.
A belief in pizza in Oklahoma was but one manifestation of Dermer’s outside the box thinking. In the mid 1960s he purchased a number of used Volkswagen Type 1 “beetles” for us as delivery cars. Then he gave his employees creative license to decorate the cars. Cars with wild psychedelic tie-dye patterns, that looked like lady bugs or that mimicked Herbie, the VW made famous in the Walt Disney Studios Love Bug movie franchise ensured that his restaurant was well known.
Kites & pizza, Dermer and Gary Gabrel, the restaurants manager were passionate chess players and in the early 1970s they expanded their interests to include exotic board games. Of particular interest to the gamers was the Asian game called Go, and a version popular in Japan, Ninuki-Renju. Gabrel renamed it Pente, established a game company and began marketing it in the United States. As a sales tool Dermer kept the game at the front counter for customers to play while waiting for their pizzas.
While attending a national toy and game convention in 1982, Gabrel purchased a two-string Skynasaur stunt kite. Dermer flew the kite and everything changed. In an interview given in 2013, Dermer said, “By today’s standards, the Skynasaur is an absolute dinosaur. It weighs about 2 or 3 pounds versus today’s 6 ounces; it’s made of solid fiberglass sticks and heavy fabric. It was built like a tank, and it needed about 15-miles-an-hour wind before it would fly. But we took it out in a very strong wind, and it was an absolute hoot. It was dragging us through the OSU intramural field on the seats of our pants. And you could have incredible control. You could steer it in the sky like a bicycle. Pull left, and the kite turns left. Pull right, and the kite turns right. Balance the pull, and it goes in a straight line with incredible power.”
Gabrel used his toy-industry connections to purchase kites in wholesale quantities. He and Dermer soon talked friends into buying and flying Skynasaurs on weekends. Then in the summer of 1984 KATT 100.5-FM, an Oklahoma City radio station announced that they would sponsoring the state’s first-ever Skydancer Kite Festival and stunt-kite competition. That was the beginning of an amazing odyssey. Dermer served as the regional director and then from 1997 to 199 as president of the American Kitefliers Association. He also worked to develop and shape the modern view of stunt kiting. Dermer and his wife, Marti, traveled throughout Asia as well as New Zealand, England, France, and Denmark to learn more about kites and their history, and teach a new generation about them. They also developed educational programs about kites for schoolchildren.
Along the way they amassed an astounding collection of international kites, historic kites, record setting kites and experimental kites. Dermer passed away in March 2014 but his pizza parlor is still going strong. And there his passion for kites is preserved as memorial. The walls and ceiling is adorned with a selection of his favorite kites.
Kites & Pizza may not take you to China or Brazil, and they may not inspire to start programs for school children. They can, however, transport you back to carefree childhood days and open doors to amazing friendships that transcend barriers of culture and language. Stop by Tumbleweeds and Tarantulas today, and discover the magic that is kite flying.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America