Columbus Has 1st Franchised Godfathers, Founder Stops by Friday

COLUMBUS – The founder of Godfather’s Pizza stopped at the Columbus store on Friday, which was the first of the franchise in the now widespread chain.

Godfathers was founded in the early 70’s by Willy Theisen, in Omaha. Theisen said after opening his first pizza shop, each week he kept getting visitors from Columbus, which eventually turned into a very fruitful relationship.

“We got to know each other a little bit, and they said you ought to come up to Columbus sometime. I think we’d like to be in the pizza business with you, and I said were not really thinking about that right now. I’ve never been to Columbus, and they said if you come up we know you’re going to like it,” says Theisen.

Theisen came to visit the proposed spot for the new pizza restaurant, which at the time was Billy’s Cafe. A couple of handshakes later, and, in 1974, Theisen’s business relationship with Loren Henggeler, Leon Fickle, Jim Wemhoff, and Larry Smith helped start the Godfather’s franchise, which has touched many communities since.

“Everybody talks sometimes about Omaha and Lincoln, everybody’s doing well there, but it’s the rural that we have to all care about. That’s the real heart of our state, and there is twenty cities in this rural area, that Godfather’s became important too, and that was a lot of our success. We went to the Grand Islands, the Kearneys, and the Norfolks, and that’s how it grew,” says Theisen.

Larry Smith, and Loren Henggeler’s wife Sue were able to meet with Theisen at the Columbus store on Friday, along with other local officials.