On 12th Avenue, roughly two miles from both the old and new football stadiums, Shorty’s Pizza Shack sits in the heart of Baylor territory. Known for great food at surprisingly low prices, Shorty’s is a haven for Baylor fans and pizza fans alike.
From the green walls to the college memorabilia, the restaurant is a testament to owner Ted “Shorty” Browning’s fondness for his time as a student pursuing an economics degree at Baylor and his continued love of the school and Waco, where he makes his home.
For Browning, though, his restaurant isn’t just about his love for Baylor.
“I’ve always worked in restaurants, and I wanted my own,” he said. “I could see it in my head. I’ve traveled all over the world, and every time I’ve gone somewhere I’ve said, ‘Hey, I kinda like that,’ or ‘That was neat.’ It was inspiration from many places.”
When he dreamed, though, Browning — who is originally from Austin — always came back to Waco.
“I’ve always wanted this spot,” he sid. “I wanted this location from college, because I used to live one block away.”
One night after work he decided, on a whim, to drive by the spot where Shorty’s now sits.
“It said ‘available,’ and about a month later I signed the lease.”
But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
“It was pretty scary,” he recalled. His wife, Randle, remembers the process of diving in.
“Since I’ve met him, he’s made these plans,” she said. “He would see a place for lease and come up with plans for a possible business there and decide, ‘No, no, this isn’t the place.’ Then he saw this place and made the plans and just looked at me like, ‘I could do this.’
“I said, ‘If you don’t do this now, you’re just scared,’ and that made him do it.”
Browning laughed. “I just had to have somebody call me a chicken.”
For nearly a year after signing the lease, Browning, with the help of friends, built his restaurant, from the tiles to the tables and even speakers made by Randle.
In February 2011, Shorty’s Pizza Shack opened its doors, and it’s been a success story since.
Shorty’s business sense was just one piece of the puzzle; his restaurant wouldn’t be nearly as successful without the draw of good food. The foundation of his pizza recipes came from Donnie Colaku, a Baylor student from New Jersey.
“When I opened the place, it was more about the atmosphere than the food,” Browning said. “When we got the pizza ovens delivered, a guy walked in and was impressed that we had pizza ovens and asked for a job. I said, ‘Sure, this will be great.’ I don’t actually know that much about pizza. All the recipes are from New Jersey, from his family. He taught us.”
Though Colaku moved back to New Jersey, his knowledge and love of pizza remained at Shorty’s.
From there, the restaurant moved to bigger taste and fresher ingredients. The dough is made in-house, as well as the marinara sauce. Vegetables are cut and cheese is ground on-site. Nothing comes out of a bag.
The marinara is a Shorty’s original recipe, with just enough hint of a kick to tease its Texas authenticity.
“We’re from Texas. We like spicy,” Browning said.
They even make their own sausage and hamburger on-site, with fresh ground meat ordered from Waco Custom Meats.
“With the sausage, it’s nice to know what’s in it,” Browning said. “No fillers, no additives. Just meat. We try to do things the right way.”
Randle, who masterminded the move to fresh ingredients and in-house sausage, agreed. “It’s really good. I used to be kind of a vegetarian and now I’m like, ‘I’ll have Meat Lovers!’ ”
Randle, who trained as a chef in Ireland, adds her creative flair to the restaurant’s menu.
“I come up with crazy ideas,” she jokes. She writes about her adventures in food and in the restaurant business on her blog, Crandlecakes.com.
Their signature dish, the Pizza Pillow, brings all the elements that makes Shorty’s a success into one dish. For $1.99 to $3.99 customers can get their pizza dough folded and pressed into a pillow-shaped square, stuffed with cheese and assorted favorite toppings (from buffalo chicken, Margherita and spinach and garlic to artisan cheese), then baked.
The result is a large, gooey-on-the-inside meal that will leave customers stuffed — for less than $4.
Though the food brings in people from all over Waco, it’s not the only draw of Shorty’s.
The atmosphere, casual and easygoing, makes for a community of pizza fans who have become Browning’s friends. Customers greet Browning, though he prefers to be called Shorty, as they come and go. He asks about their lives, remembering everyone.
Browning’s intention was to make a place where people could hang out and have pizza and beer; it’s almost a clubhouse for his extensive group of loyal friends and customers.
Their fondness goes beyond the daily specials. They decorate the walls to show their friendship, add hats to his collection hanging from the ceiling, a leather Baylor golf bag, T-shirts and even a giant likeness of his head that made a guest appearance in the crowd at a Baylor football game.
Local artists display their work on the wall. Kids draw on the patio floor with chalk. His goal was to create a haven of good food, good friends and good times. He feels he has done just that.
“They’re all your friends,” he said. “It’s a nice feeling.”
His community reaches out online as well. From the website, shortyspizzashack.com, to its Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages, patrons can get a peek at the inner workings of Shorty’s,.
“I think that people like that they can talk to us,” he said. “People will ask on Facebook, ‘Will you have this slice?’ and we’ll say, ‘Sure!’ People like that.”
The new year will bring new things to Shorty’s — new food experiments, like the Farmer’s Market pizza Randle is planning, and new specials — but the important things will stay the same, he said. Those include an 18-inch pizza, larger than his competitors; catering events; low prices; Baylor sports on the television; and Shorty himself, who will be happy to see his friends.
Shorty’s Pizza Shack
1712 S. 12th St.
Daily, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
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