When Knockout Pizza opened in April, it was the return of an old area favorite — sort of.
The pizzeria's story began 18 years ago.
"It was my 16th birthday," owner Eddie Hendrix said, "and my dad said, 'Get your butt up and get a job.'"
"I gave him my (Chevrolet) Blazer and said, 'I'm not paying for insurance or gas,'" Hendrix's father, Eddie Sr., said.
To fortify himself for the job search, Hendrix stopped by K.O.'s Pizza on the Mesa to get some pizza bread and commiserate with owner Kurt Bekke.
"He reached under the counter and threw me an apron," Hendrix said. For the next nine years, he worked at the pizzeria, rising through the ranks to manage the restaurant in Bekke's absence. "He was like my childhood mentor."
All that changed nine years ago.
"One day, out of nowhere, he was out running and had a massive heart attack," Hendrix said.
Bekke's ex-wife took over the pizzeria after Bekke's death, and Hendrix left to pursue other work, including selling cars, a firewood business and wheeling and dealing on Craigslist. In January, Bekke's restaurant closed its doors after 24 years in business.
Hendrix stuck his head in after hearing rumors of the pizzeria's closing and ran into the landlord, who urged him to come back and take over the location — but he had to decide quickly, since other restaurateurs were eyeing the location as well. Three days later, the Hendrixes were in the pizza business for themselves.
They didn't want to use the previous name, since they didn't want trouble with K.O.'s creditors, but wanted one that paid homage to the original restaurant.
"People always thought it was 'Knockout,' so let's call it that," Hendrix said. (The original restaurant's name actually stood for "Kurt Oden Bekke.")
Hendrix's entrepreneurial streak came in handy: They ended up getting all the tables and chairs for $750 on Craigslist when a Covina restaurant went under. Electronics auctions supplied the videogames and jukebox.
"All I can say is thank God for family," Hendrix's wife, Crystal, said. Friends and family helped move furniture, paint the walls and all the other tasks required to open a business.
The Hendrixes sold off all the assets they could and were able to open a business without going deeply into debt: In all, Knockout Pizza only cost the Hendrix family $10,000 to open.
"It's like buying a cheap used car," Eddie Sr. said.
The family focus also includes the menu, which mixes Hendrix family recipes with the classics Hendrix still has in his head from his days working for Bekke.
Long-time customer Jenene Green says the restaurant measures up to the glory days of K.O.'s Pizza before Bekke's death.
"Eddie's doing a fabulous job. I'm so proud," she said. "Their lasagna is really good, but their pizza is excellent. ... I couldn't tell you what's better (to eat) than the other."
Green's not alone: The Mesa community has embraced Knockout Pizza, according to the owners.
"We are already back to where Kurt was, and that's without the beer and liquor license," which is coming soon, Hendrix said. "Every day, we watch the business get a little better and better."
Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at Beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.