Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

February 21, 2012

Pizza legacy bowing out of family name

Noteworthy Neighbor

Ezra Mann
Pauls Valley Democrat

Pauls Valley, Oklahoma — With all of the iconic influence established in Pauls Valley over the years it can be easy to take advantage of the little things each of these examples have left behind.

Making an impact slice by slice under one form of ownership or another for more than four decades is Little Ben’s Pizza, something to be proud of for Garvin County native Ben Rude. However, as much as he has enjoyed being a part of legacy both family and culinary, today will be the last day at least in name residents can enjoy sharing this joy with him.

“With all of the restaurants we have, I’ve felt real fortunate to do as well as we have for eight years,” said Rude. “I’ve never found anywhere else I like better.”

Though Rude would have been satisfied keeping the traditions going he brought back to the family name after buying the restaurant at the end of 2003, another of his passions, fishing, has always been calling his name as well. In fact, even before he added the Little part to the familiar name he was actually a tournament fisherman for about 12 years and made the decision to sell the location and look for a property near Lake Fork in Texas.

In part, it is also somewhat bittersweet for Rude because of how easy his employees made it for him to continue both dreams for so long and why he waited until now to make this decision. Purchasing the restaurant will be those who currently own Punkins in town, with their plans to move to the Grant Avenue location and to offer the signature pizza in the transition.

“I’m passionate about the restaurant, but it’s not the same as being out on the water,” said Rude, who has his eye on a marina set up where he can take people out fishing for a living. “If there was a 30,000 acre lake here I wouldn’t think about moving.”

Of course, Rude will still cherish the memories built as far back as he can remember from helping family like his Grandfather Big Ben with charitable functions like free holiday meals to working in every position from the time he was 12 years old. It was an easy decision even on the days he couldn’t stand washing any more dishes since cooking is a joy he can’t shake whether there or when he gets home later in the day.

Leaving Pauls Valley won’t be any easier, especially with fishing plans no where near as secure, and will still be a place Rude may end up returning to. A 1999 Pauls Valley High School graduate, he’s called himself a lifer on more than one occasion and never tires of going that extra mile for the people around him.

“From the time I was born I was in here all the time,” said Rude, noting people still refer to the restaurant as it was when it first opened in the late 1960s. “I was always really passionate about having this restaurant in the family.”

Some of the best parts of being in in the business for Rude has been being able to come in every day and create something so unique. He noted how it is very rare in the workplace to be able to see the results of one’s labor every single day and though one could easily tire of the flavor of one type of food over and over, will even miss getting to eat pizza all the time.

“Our pizza’s extremely unique. I love serving people, putting a smile on people’s faces,” said Rude. “It’s not your New York or Chicago Style... It’s your Oklahoma Style.”