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Note: Portions of this article have been taken from the many other articles we’ve written about Rocky Rococo.

My favorite description of Rocky Rococo pizza comes from my pal Evan Rytlewski. A number of years ago, following an episode of our weekly WMSE talk show The Disclaimer (R.I.P.), Evan waxed philosophical about the mysteries of Rocky’s. “It’s impossible to know where the crust ends and the toppings begin,” he said. “It’s like one big loaf.”

One big loaf. I like that. Rocky Rococo pizza isn’t pizza in the traditional sense—i.e. an assemblage of discreet ingredients separated by clearly defined boundaries—it’s a single food item unto itself. It’s not a city or a state or a country, it’s a continent. It’s a solid block of goodness, an impermeable mass of deliciousness, an unsullied slab of righteousness. To quote the greatest thinkers of our times, a rectangular slice of Rocky Rococo pizza is an absolute unit.

And now, in the Year of Our Lord 2025, Rocky Rococo is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Fifty years! Growing up, I was unaware that Rocky’s was a “Wisconsin Thing.” Like fish frys, supper clubs, and binge drinking, I assumed Rocky’s was worldwide, baby. But, lucky us, a “Wisconsin Thing” it is. The boxed slices of pan-style pizza! The big hunks of sausage! The breadsticks! The mustachioed spokesman and the ridiculous movie posters! ALL OURS! (Shout-out to The Meatrixx.)

Rocky Rococo: Mandatory Wisconsin, indeed.

Wayne Mosley and Roger Brown opened the first Rocky Rococo at 411 Gilman Street in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 4, 1974. Like another eventual Madison export, The Onion, the pizza purveyor began its life as a scrappy, college-student-beloved counterculture-adjacent business. But, also like The Onion, things wouldn’t stay local forever. A second location soon opened in the early ’70s, this one on State Street. Then another Madison location. Then another. Then a location in La Crosse. Incredibly, by 1985, Rocky Rococo boasted 45 stores. Even more incredibly, in a 1985 Restaurant Business article, Mosley and Brown claimed they planned to open 650 Rocky locations by 1990, with 55 units in Chicago alone.

“It didn’t happen,” informs a Madison Magazine piece from 1987. “The two and a half years since that article appeared have been tumultuous ones for Rocky’s. They have a little more than a hundred stores, not six or seven hundred. After gearing up for rapid growth, the company found itself having to make significant cuts, laying off people who were not only employees but friends. There was pain on all sides.”

Some of that pain came from an unlikely source: Rocky Rococo himself. Well, the restaurant’s fictitious, Leon Redbone-esque mascot, anyway.

An In Business article from 2014 explains:

Of course, starting out as a one-shop operation, Rocky Rococo didn’t get its name from some focus-group-tested corporate branding process. In fact, the name originated with Firesign Theatre, a Los Angeles comedy troupe that rose to popularity in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Mosley and Brown were fans, and when it came time to name their restaurant, they remembered one of the troupe’s famous characters, Rocky Rococo. Naming the restaurant after an already established character may have been naïve, but everything was cool back in the live-and-let-live ’70s, and remained so even after Firesign got wind of Rocky’s fledgling operation. […]

“Now it’s 1985, and at that time we actually had 62 restaurants—we had taken on partners—and we get a letter from Firesign Theatre L.A. that said, ‘We own your name.'”

It was a jarring moment, but Mosley and his partners quickly had a powwow with their lawyers and found a way to head off the crisis.

“[Our lawyers] found the exact same kind of case with Conan the Barbarian in Austin, Texas,” said Mosley. “The guys called their pizzeria Conan’s, and the guy who did the Conan comic book comes in and draws Conan all over the walls. Then MGM buys the rights to the comic book…and they made a movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and they sued the pizza guy and said, ‘We own your name.’ And the pizza guys fought them all the way up to one court below the Supreme Court, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, and won.”

The Rocky character—played by Madison resident James Martin Pedersen—proved to be a hit. (Pedersen died in 2016 at the age of 67.) Over the decades, Rocky/Pedersen appeared in countless TV ads…

…delighted his fans with countless in-person appearances…

…and, yes, performed on a seven-track album called Kitchen Licks. Put on “’90s Kinda Guy” and/or “Left Me Like A Cold Slice (In The Refrigerator Of Your Heart),” tuck into an Uncle Sal’s Spectacular (that’s the Monday Super Slice), and enjoy:

Today, Rocky Rococo has nowhere near 650 stores—or even the “little more than a hundred” stores it had in 1987. As of this writing, Rocky’s has roughly 30 locations statewide. And that’s fine! Folks in Milwaukee and Racine are blessed with Rocky’s doughy goodness. Diners in Eau Claire and Whitewater are able to partake in Rocky’s zesty sauce. In the mood for some sinfully good sausage and breadsticks? If you live in Oshkosh, Onalaska, and/or Oconomowoc, you’re in luck. And yes, there’s one random Rocky Rococo in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. How I’ve never driven there for a “I drove to the one Rocky Rococo in Minnesota” article is a mystery even to me.

My earliest memories of Rocky Rococo are memories of eating at semi-nice, wood-paneled sit-down restaurants during trips to exotic cities like Appleton or Fond du Lac. Pizza Hut was fine and all (and equally wood-paneled in those days), but Rocky’s felt special. These days, I mostly associate Rocky’s with mall food courts. (The Bayshore location is my go-to spot.) And, again, that’s fine! It’s still, in my humble opinion, above-average fast-food pizza well worth above-average fast-food prices. It’s the kind of food that folks who live here take for granted, and the kind of food that folks who leave here pine for. It’s good pizza, plain and simple. It’s one big loaf.

And yep, it’s a “Wisconsin Thing.” Happy 50th, Rocky Rococo. Like it says on the boxes and the cups of soda AND the cups of breadsticks, you’re the crème de la crème.

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Rocky Rococo movie posters, ranked

The new Rocky Rococo at Bayshore: The Milwaukee Record Review

Remembering the musical legacy of Rocky Rococo

Man who played “Rocky Rococo” is dead. Long live man who played “Rocky Rococo”