The city of Harrogate was a different kind of animal four decades ago, when Pat and Wally Jones opened The Oasis. The couple dared to ‘break the ice’ by deciding to serve beer with their pizza, despite their establishment’s location squarely in the belt buckle of the Bible belt.
“We were scared to death nobody would come – that no one would like us,” said ‘Miss Patty,’ the moniker fondly given to the entrepreneur by her customers.
The couple shouldn’t have worried. Customers they had, and continued to build throughout the decades since opening their family restaurant on Dec. 18, 1976.
Now under new management, The Oasis will be celebrating its 40th anniversary on Dec. 17 with all-day food specials. The crazy fun will get under way promptly at 7 p.m. with a ‘hands-off’ pizza eating contest, followed by live music courtesy of the Ken Wilson Band.
The pizza contest entry fee is $4 per person.
And, of course, Miss Patty will be in attendance, eager to get reacquainted with all her former customers.
Pat Jones sat down with the Progress to reminisce about the early days.
It seems The Oasis drew quite a varied clientele, some quite famous.
Jones told of the evening when actor Lee Majors dropped in for a quiet bit of food and drink.
Not wanting to harass the man while he tried to enjoy his time there, Jones says she warned her wait staff and regulars to give the man some space.
“I guess, the more beer he got in him, it got to him that nobody recognized him. When his waitress dropped by the table, he said, ‘you don’t know who I am, do you?’ She said, ‘Don’t matter who you are. I’m just waiting until five o’clock so I can go home,’” said Jones.
The Oasis has played host to many celebrities. Miss Patty says the doors of her establishment were promptly locked after country crooner Lee Greenwood and his band dropped in for a bite to eat.
Golfing great Arnold Palmer failed in his attempt to keep a low profile, due to his specialty license plates which Miss Patty spotted as his vehicle pulled into the parking lot.
And, country star Rodney Atkins has apparently made The Oasis his second home. The singer has performed there. And, he made sure The Oasis would be included as a location site in the movie “Origins.”
When honored with a platinum record, Atkins promptly gave Miss Patty a copy. It is proudly displayed on a wall inside the establishment.
Jones recalled one couple who was engaged inside The Oasis. Every year, she says they celebrate their anniversary at the same booth, no matter in what state they are currently living.
Apparently, some folk just can’t get enough of The Oasis pizza. And, long-distance deliveries were no problem for the Jones’ when Harlan helicopter pilot Jimmy Blanton was around to drop those pies anywhere across the country.
Jones says she remembers giving the Lincoln Memorial University home team a ‘leg up’ during a pizza eating contest between LMU and Carson Newman.
“I dropped a little extra in the pizzas served to Carson Newman. Those pizzas were loaded with hot peppers. The LMU pizzas were not. LMU won that contest,” said Jones.
Miss Patty recalled an incident that occurred a few days after her opening.
“It was still all so new to me. A man came in and ordered two large pizzas. I was so nervous bringing them to him that I dropped both of them on the floor. He wouldn’t let me remake the order and insisted on paying for them, when he was done eating.
“The next day, he ordered two more large pizzas. He told me, ‘now, don’t forget to drop them on the floor. Those were the best pizzas I ever ate,’” said Jones.
Apparently, Miss Patty is not adverse to going the extra mile when making her customers happy. During a bachelor party, she noticed the guys sitting morosely at their tables. After a while, she overheard one complain that he was ‘bored to death.’
“Well, I got a couple of the girls and we dressed up in poodle skirts,” said Jones.
It must have done the trick. According to Miss Patty, the party took a definite upswing.
Over its 40-year reign, The Oasis has received numerous thank you cards from satisfied customers throughout the country – no doubt, a testament to Miss Patty’s philosophy that, “if you respect people, they will respect you.”
The Oasis has recently gone under new ownership. Renee Haas, who took over the thriving business, says she wants to hold on to the “genuineness” of The Oasis while bringing a touch of the ‘city feel’ to the popular establishment.
“It touches my heart to see how The Oasis has affected so many people through the years. We want to continue to bring that same atmosphere to our customers,” said Haas.
The Oasis manager Sheryl Young invites everyone to come out on Dec. 17 to participate in the 40 year anniversary of a local landmark.
Reach Jan Runions at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @scribeCP.