In about two months, Jess Bingaman and his wife are poised to lose their beloved slice of Newport Beach, where friends and families have met year after year to enjoy the ocean views over pizza and beer in a jug.
Considering that, though, he was in a chipper mood Tuesday afternoon. Dressed in Southern California winter casual — T-shirt, jeans and beanie — Bingaman smiled at the thought of running Perry's Pizza as long as he has. He's been working at the eclectic Balboa Peninsula pizza parlor since 1986 and has co-owned it with his wife, Dawn, since 1996.
And ever since getting the keys to the little pizza kingdom near the Newport Pier, the "only thing I did was to slap some paint on it every year," he said with a smile, Bob Dylan's "Hurricane" playing in the background
Thus, the story goes that Perry's hasn't changed much since opening in 1973, and that's how its devoted fans like it, said Bingaman, 56.
"If you'd change anything in here," he said, "they'd be very upset."
But change seems inevitable. A new owner recently bought the building, and Bingaman was told in November that his lease isn't being renewed.
By sometime in February — he is not sure of the exact date — after 40 years in business, the Perry's team will be shutting off the ovens, unhooking the kegs and collecting the decades of mementos adorning the walls.
There are photo collages of friends, neighbors and tourists having good times over food and flowing beers. There are photos of surfers and the Wedge and black-and-whites of a bygone Newport Beach, circa the 1920s.
There's that wooden Budweiser surfboard above the two ovens — both of which have been there since Perry's 1973 opening — and the pair of rusty metal keys hanging near the entrance. Legend has it they open a barn in the Nevada desert, outside Laughlin. Bingaman says a regular gave them to him one day.
Perry's started as a small chain, Bingaman said, whose progress was stifled by the rise of larger ones like Domino's and Little Caesars.
Bingaman considers his business a
family affair. His wife helps out, and his nephews would come to Newport to work during the peak summer season.
On Tuesday, the pierside boardwalk was quiet. Word has spread among Perry's regulars that it's on its way out.
"I like the prime rib sliders on Thursdays, cause that's the leftover prime rib from Wednesday," Newport Beach resident Keith Fearnley said with a laugh while standing in front of the pickup window.
The window reads "Pizza by the slice / Always ready." Printed on the pizza-to-go boxes inside are the words "Enjoy your delicious moments!"
Perry's beer-in-a-jug identity started in 1999, when Bingaman ran out of 32-ounce beer schooners one weekend. It turned out that milk jugs, also 32 ounces, were an affordable, easily available substitute.
Out went the milk, and in went the beer.
Bingaman said he feels sad for the regulars who are going to be losing their favorite spot, some of whom have taken to social media to reminisce about Perry's. He wondered if there will be "a run" for the Perry's T-shirts before final closing time next year.
But Bingaman said he feels ready to move on, hoping for bigger and better things.
He wasn't specific about what that may be, but he wants to run another family-oriented business, the type that hosts charity fundraisers and sponsors Little League teams.
"We always give back," he said.