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Jim Eure

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Jim Eure Obituary
Jim Eure, the quiet, energetic founder of the Mr. Gatti's pizza chain, died of heart failure Sunday night at his West Austin home. He was 87.

In the 1960s, Eure, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, opened a small hamburger and pizza joint in his hometown of Stephenville, in North Texas. The restaurant was popular, but it was a grueling business, daughter Sue Thorson recalled Monday.

A few years later, Eure and his wife, Pat, fell in love with Austin during a drive back from the Gulf Coast. The Eures decided to move to Austin, but Eure was sure he was going to hang up his pizza roller.

"If I ever open up another restaurant, I hope I have my head examined," he said, Thorson recalled.

But Eure (pronounced "your") couldn't resist the draw of college students and only two pizza chains in town. In 1969, he opened the Pizza Place at Oltorf Street and South Congress Avenue and soon added more locations as business took off again. Eventually, his wife's Italian maiden name, Gatti, became the moniker.

To his family, Eure was a dogged entrepreneur and energetic force, whether it was selling cattle, renovating upscale apartments or designing furniture.

When Willie Nelson ran into financial troubles in the 1990s, Eure bought the singer's property near Briarcliff, on Lake Travis, and then sold it back when things improved, Thorson said.

And even as he slowed down in his final years, his wife says, it's hard to describe everything he did.

"You don't have enough space," Pat Eure said from their Mount Bonnell home.

In his restaurant career, Eure was known for developing a rich dough and a secret sauce that kept customers calling.

Eure sold his chain of 18 restaurants in 1974 but held on to a couple of franchises. Mr. Gatti's has since changed hands several times. Last year, Austin private equity firm Blue Sage Capital LP bought Mr. Gatti's parent company, Kerrville-based LDB Corp., for an undisclosed amount.

Mr. Gatti's Inc. said last month that it would expand its chain of more than 140 stores to about 200 or more in the next five years, said Michael Mrlik, the chief executive who joined Mr. Gatti's in May.

Mr. Gatti's was a top-five pizza chain in the 1980s, but as of 2004 it had slipped to No. 17, according to Pizza Marketing Quarterly.

"His legacy is about the product: the pizza dough, the spaghetti sauce recipe and the integrity of the product," Mrlik said. "He really preached it in the early days, and that's what we want to bring back to the forefront."

Rick Barsness, who opened a franchise with Eure in Victoria in 1974, remembers one busy Friday night with a full house and 100 customers lined up. The staff was strained, and Eure told Barsness, then 21 years old, that he wasn't making the pizza "good enough."

So Eure shut it down, saying they would reopen Monday, after they fixed the problems.

"I thought (the pizza) was fine...but he was absolutely right," said Barsness, now owner of the Springfield, Mo.-based Incredible Pizza chain. "The Colonel was the greatest pizza maker that ever lived."

Eure is expected to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. He is survived by his wife, Pat, two daughters and a son, and four grandchildren.
Published in Austin American-Statesman on Sept. 19, 2005
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