Photo Credit: 
Curtis Awbrey | The Chronicle
Pizza Corral Owner Chris Hayes piles on the toppings for a six-pound medium deep-dish meat lover’s pizza a couple of regular customers ordered.
Pizza Corral Owner Chris Hayes piles on the toppings for a six-pound medium deep-dish meat lover’s pizza a couple of regular customers ordered.

ELGIN — Three years have gone by since Chris Hayes took ownership of Elgin’s Pizza Corral. During that time the popular pizzeria was forced to endure measures put in place to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

For about 21 days last year, Hayes said he was forced to shutter his pizzeria twice due to exposure to COVID-19.

“All the toppings, dough — everything that wasn’t frozen had to be thrown away,” Hayes said. “I had to do that twice.”

Under Hayes’ ownership, approximately half of that time has been spent contending with public health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. To help “flatten the curve,” Hayes and the crew shifted their operations to strictly carryout, and special cleaning and sanitizing procedures were put in place. The pizzeria has since reopened its doors to the public.

Hayes’ sense of pizza-related humor often adorned the marquee out front, before it was blown away during a recent storm. But the pizzamaker’s March 25, 2020, sign caught the eyes of passing motorists with this grounded quip: “Social distancing: We’re in this together… apart.”

“As a small community we are in this together,” Hayes said. “People just needed to be reminded.”

Hayes, an Elgin native who resides in nearby Fletcher, first became interested in pizza-making while working for his dad, who then owned Scott’s Super Stop in Elgin. Next to sports, creating new dishes is one of Hayes’ passions. Some of his more creative experiments have included chicken and waffles, baked potato, Philly cheesesteak and jalapeño popper pizzas. 

“Pizza’s an open canvas,” he said. “I mean, anyone can have a pepperoni. We want to be different than any other pizza place. Give me a little bit in the kitchen and I’ll come up with something.”

Over the past few years, Hayes has enjoyed watching the business grow.

“Our community has been really awesome,” he said. “I think that we were busier during the first year of the pandemic because customers were more supportive of local eateries.”

He has lent his pizza-making skills and donated proceeds to support local organizations such as Elgin athletics and youth activities.

“My biggest order to date was Winter Wishes,” he said. “We had more than 220 pizzas last year. If I remember correctly, that order fed all the fourth- and fifth-graders in Elgin.”

Along with a large variety of toppings for specialty pizzas, calzones, Stromboli, sandwiches, a fresh salad bar and a choice of eight sauces for wings, the pizzeria also features eight flavors of Italian gelato, which contains less milk fat than traditional ice cream. Pizza Corral fans were in for another treat as the pizzeria partnered up with local smokehouse Native Smoke to add even more high-quality smoked meat options.

“I went over (to Native Smoke) and grabbed some brisket, and threw it on the pizza,” Hayes said. “It was good. So, we added it to our menu.”

A 14” large three-topping pizza will runs just under $13 at Pizza Corral. Two dozen wings with your choice of eight different sauces costs close to $20. Locals prefer the deep-dish pizza, said Hayes.

“A large meat lovers pizza weighs about seven and a half pounds,” he said. “That pie will run you a little over $20, tax included.

Pizza Corral, at 7927 State Highway 277, is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. For more information or to place an order, call (580) 454-7000.