Karen’s Pizzeria closing after 24 years; owner will semi-retire, moving on to Raymond’s Pizza

“I’ve met a lot of good people over the years,” Karen Willis says

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

HAMILTON — After 24 years, Karen Willis is closing Karen’s Pizzeria on Dec. 30, and will semi-retire.

In the meantime, customers will throw her a retirement party on Sunday, because that’s the one day a week the pizzeria along Eaton Avenue is closed.

“I’ve been here 24 years, so it’s time to retire,” said Willis, who will turn 65 in July.

Owning the business “has been fantastic,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed it. I wish I had done it a long time ago, when I was younger.”

“I’ve met a lot of good people over the years,” Willis said. “They’re not only customers, but they’ve become my family, my friends.”

Willis, a widow, also has enjoyed being her own boss, doing things the way she wants, and “fixing the food the way I want it fixed, with my personal touch, everybody’s telling me to put my TLC into it.”

She will stay in touch with those people, partly because Raymond’s Pizza plans to open a store in the same property at 1085 Eaton Ave., and she plans to work there three days a week or so, after it is transformed into a Raymond’s about two months after she closes. Also, she’s been exchanging phone numbers with her regulars.

“I want to stay active,” Willis said. “But I just want to slow down.”

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Things got a bit saucy at times at her pizzeria. About 14 years ago, she gained national notoriety when she put on her pizza boxes a poster asking people to report the whereabouts of “Deadbeat Dads” who weren’t paying child support.

One man was arrested because of his image on the box, she said. “I had people from CNN and all over interviewing me, and they picketed me outside, and everything.”

She had placed posters from the from the Butler County Child Support Enforcement Agency, and a group called Fathers-4-Justice picketed outside in protest, arguing reform of the child-support system.

But the best sauce in the place is her Chicken Alfredo, she said.

“The customers are really nice,” said Daylin Nelson, who has worked there more than two years. “They’re the older crowd, but they all love Karen a lot. They always want to talk to her, which is nice.”

They love the conversations “because she’s friendly with everybody,” Nelson said. “She wants to talk to everybody, and she knows everybody’s names, and their orders, and they always want to tell her about their grandkids, or their kids, or their dogs, show her pictures. Karen’s a people person.”

Raymond’s Pizza was founded as a carry-out pizza shop in 1954 by Chester Dadabo in Hamilton. It has a location 7328 Yankee Rd, Liberty Township.

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