Hour 23: 3:18 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22
A wooden sign is posted in the doorway: “Sorry … NO ADMITTANCE. Full to Fire Code Capacity.”
Madison Borchert, 22, is next in line to get in the door at Shakespeare’s Pizza. A friend pours her a beer from his pitcher. This is the first time Borchert, who lives in St. Louis, has been to Shakespeare’s.
“I’ve always heard how great it is, so I knew I had to come,” Brochert says.
On Saturdays when the Missouri football team plays at home, Shakespeare’s, a restaurant with 200 seats, draws a crowd beyond its capacity of 275. Those numbers don’t include the patio, which seats 40. The sidewalk cafe seats another 10, and the tent assembled in the parking lot on game days provides an extra 80 seats.
So at 3:18 p.m., as Borchert waits to enter, more than 405 people are already inside.
So what goes into serving this crowd?
Kurt Mirtsching, Shakespeare’s general manager, said the preparation starts in August. To survive and thrive on football weekends, extra employees are hired, inventory is restocked, machines are tuned up, and maintenance runs drain snakes through every pipe in the building.
And once the tables are organized, the machines are hot, the crushed red pepper flake shakers are filled — once everything is in place — a sort of organized anarchy sets in.
“We don’t choreograph anything that doesn’t need to be choreographed,” Mirtsching says. “We hire people that have brains, and so we’re going to let them use them.”
Seasoned employees can calculate when the initial crowd rush will begin. It’s early in the second quarter, and manager Jessi Weir announces the game isn’t going well. The Tigers are behind 24-10.
“Be prepared,” she instructs the staff. “They’ll get here early.”
By “they” she means the hungry crowd.
Jacob, 9, and Holly Travers, 6, are among that crowd. They attended the first half of the game with their father, Chris Travers, but Jacob was really hungry and Holly doesn’t really like football.
“It was awesome but too bad they’re losing,” Jacob said. “I didn’t have breakfast. I’m starving.”
Sam Windham, along with his family, is the first customer served. If the recent MU graduate had attended the game, he would have been in that crowd as well.
“By halftime I’m always ready to leave,” Windham says. “It’s really hard to stand that long when you’ve been drinking.”
Instead, he nurses his hangover from the night before in the bar at Shakespeare’s, alternating between a beer and a glass of water, while a Marvin Gaye song plays over the speakers and the game is shown on a mute flat screen.
As the end of the game nears, the crowd picks up. At 2:15 p.m. the line is out the door and down the sidewalk. A stout woman, fists pumping high, power walks past a small group to get in front of them in line.
At 3:18 p.m. the fire code capacity sign is up.
“We don’t like to put that up, but there are times the place is so packed, you can’t get through,” manager Toby Epstein says.
And packed it is. Arms collide as customers jab their cups at the soda machine. Customers throw down place settings to secure their table while they wait in line, and one customer angrily tosses them aside, taking the table for himself. The line at the bar is anything but single file, a thick mass of people funneling into a single serving slot.
By 5:30 p.m. the line has thinned. It is shallow from the register, and business is comfortably steady. The anarchy is suspended until the next game day.
The day didn’t start when Windham ate the first pizza made that day. It didn’t even start at 8 a.m. when manager Cara Giessing arrived to open.
It began when Charlie Cordeal’s 12-hour shift of prep work ended at 12:30 a.m. on Saturday. He made seven-hundred pounds of dough, 400 pounds of pepperonis and 300 pounds of shredded cheese, quantity enough to make it through the lunch shift.