The Untold Truth Of Tombstone Pizza

If asked to describe a slice of heaven, some people may praise angel food cake, waxing eloquent about feather-light sweetness gracing a tongue. But others might be more likely to speak in tongues about Tombstone pizza, a brand which David Valento was so devoted to that he wrote a biblical parody called The Book of Tombstone. When The NY Egoist spotlighted the work in 2015, Valento worked as an intern for the ad agency DDB, but his true calling was clearly as a pizza disciple.

Valento's Tombstone is basically a pie in the sky, a pizza deity that turns water into sauce and punishes sinners with plagues of peppercorns, garlic, and less-delicious ills like acne. It chooses a Moses-like figure named Mough to free his people from the dastardly king Crust. Tombstone issues commandments not on stone tablets but a package of Tombstone pizza. Among the sky pie's pronouncements are "You shall have no other pizza but me" and "You shall not misuse the name of Tombstone, unless it is to make a kicka** Western movie starring Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliot, Bill Paxton, and Jason Priestly." Sweet Cheese-us, that's creative. 

Obviously, not everyone can be as pie-ous as Valento. But even if you don't believe Tombstone walks on water – or rather on ice since it's a brand of frozen pizza - it has certainly earned masses of fans. Here's the grate-est cheese story ever told.

The Nesquik and the dead

Despite having a name fit for an epic Western, Tombstone was actually born in the Midwest. The Appleton Post-Crescent reports that the story begins at a bar in Medford, Wisconsin called the Tombstone Tap, which sat opposite a cemetery. The owner, Joe "Pep" Simek, had a nasty dancing accident, somehow breaking a leg while performing the "Peppermint Twist." It ironically turned out to be a lucky break.

Simek decided to try serving frozen pizzas at his bar, but while nursing his broken leg, Simek discovered that he couldn't stand the available options. So he, his brother Ron, and their wives Joan and Frances developed a spicy pizza sauce that won customers over. They launched a pizza enterprise in 1962, and Tombstone pizzas were born. In the early days, they made pizzas in the 6-foot by 6-foot kitchen of the Tombstone Tap, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Frances and Joan prepared the sauce in five-gallon batches, and the Tombstone website writes that the Simek brothers packed the pizzas in dry ice and made deliveries in a 1959 Cadillac.

By 1966, the Simeks had a food truck, and by 1973, they had a staff of 165 women and nine assembly lines. Boasting sales that exceeded $100 million in 1984, the brand was snatched up by Kraft in 1986. In 1995, Tombstone was joined by DiGiorno, which formed the cornerstone of Kraft's frozen pizza empire (via CNBC). In 2010, chocolate juggernaut Nestle bought both brands.

Crafting cheesy ads

Tombstone might be one of the rare instances where a frozen pizza creates warm feelings that aren't heartburn, especially if you fondly recall the darkly charming Tombstone ads that aired in the 1990s. Per a Nestle press release, early versions of the commercials starred Funny or Die actor Oliver Muirhead as some character who – funny enough – seemed doomed to die. These ads were gleefully cheesy, perhaps surpassed only by the cheesiness of the pizza itself.

One such ad features Muirhead as a marshal in a place that might have passed for the Old West boomtown of Tombstone, Arizona, where Wyatt Earp cemented his legend during the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. A very not-O.K. Muirhead literally finds himself at the end of his rope, which is inconveniently tied around his neck. His lawless would-be executioner uses the brand's iconic catchphrase: "What do you want on your Tombstone?" Muirhead responds, "Pepperoni and cheese" before the ad cuts to him rapturously eating a slice of pizza.

In another humorous commercial, Muirhead narrowly eludes sinking to his doom in quicksand by requesting "a crust that rises," which magically helps him levitate. Perhaps this brilliant silliness is making a thinly veiled revelation about pizza salvation. Have you ever noticed that Jesus had 12 Apostles - really 13 if you count Mary Magdelene (via the Crossville Chronicle) – while Tombstone boasts 13 types of pizza? Clearly, Tombstone pizza knows a thing or two about rising from the dead.