David Neusel, the owner and operator of Big Ed’s Pizza in Oak Ridge, died Thursday in Nashville, longtime friend Randy Tedford said.
The cause of Neusel’s death and his age weren’t immediately available. It also wasn’t immediately clear who would now own and operate the landmark restaurant in the city’s historic Jackson Square area. (Note: More information on Neusel’s death, funeral, and the future of the restaurant is available in this newer story here.)
But Big Ed’s, which was recognized as one of America’s 51 great pizza parlors in 2010, is still open, server Kim Paluso said Friday morning. As far as she knows, the popular pizzeria will continue operating as usual.
“It was pretty hard for everybody,” Paluso said of Neusel’s death. “A lot of people showed up last night for support.”
Friday evening, Big Ed’s Operations Manager Lew Tippie said there are no plans to shut down or stop operations.
“We will be open tonight…and continue operating as usual,” Tippie said. “I see no reason for anything to change.”
He said the family recognizes that Neusel was a high-profile person, but they would also appreciate a “moment of privacy.”
Tedford said Neusel lived in Concord in Knox County with his wife Melissa, who is from Oak Ridge. The couple did not have children, said Tedford, who has known Neusel more than 40 years.
Neusel’s father Edward Benjamin Neusel opened Big Ed’s in Jackson Square in January 1970. David Neusel took over the restaurant operations some time after his father died.
Tedford said the original Big Ed’s restaurant was in Huntsville, Ala., but it burned down, and the Neusel family moved to Oak Ridge.
David Neusel, who has two brothers, was the restaurant’s majority owner, a U.S. Navy veteran, and an engineer who had worked at one of the three local federal facilities, Tedford said.
In 2010, a USA Today travel list recognized Big Ed’s as one of the 51 great pizza parlors in the United States. USA Today said Big Ed’s features a dimly lit-but-friendly dining room and described the restaurant as “a no-frills kind of place.”
“You watch staffers toss the dough high in the air and cut a steaming pie with a sharp pair of scissors, and then you eat a slice on a small paper plate with a plastic fork,” the article said. “While waiting for your pizza to bake, walk around and enjoy what Big Ed’s has collected from autographed sports memorabilia to photos of the former Miss Tennessees.”
The restaurant has its trademark T-shirts, which have been frequently given away and spotted in locations across the country, and is known for its tradition of hiring teenagers.
Funeral arrangements weren’t available Friday morning.
Note: This story was last updated at 6:43 p.m. Friday.