Jul. 7—Three people walk into the Compass in McAlester and ask where they can sit. Owner Mat Hutson gives a friendly smile and tells them "yeah, anywhere you want to sit" with the casual familiarity of greeting an old friend.
Hutson said he enjoys the pizza joint being one of the embers helping reignite the culture in downtown McAlester — saying he's thought about expanding to new locations, but McAlester will always be home.
"Our family's here, our church, our friends, you know — I wouldn't change it for the world," Hutson said.
The Compass, at 119 E. Choctaw Ave. in downtown McAlester, is the first of four businesses the Hutson family owns — including the Olive Branch, Red Ramen Bar, and McAlester2Go — since they moved to the town 11 years ago.
Hutson said it took some time from when the restaurant first opened in 2016 as a gourmet snack bar to find its way to success with pizza.
"I ended up having a chance to get a little pizza oven and like within two weeks we quit doing hot dogs and you know all we were doing is pizzas because that's all we had time for," Hutson said.
Hutson said the restaurant operated with a "gas station conveyor belt oven" making pizzas one at a time for about a year from the front counter.
He continued managing scrap yards as his full-time gig before having the opportunity to take over the space another restaurant had in the building so he could fully transition into the food industry.
"It's the biggest little side project I've ever had," said Hutson. "I left my full-time job and now I work more hours, make less money, but I love what I do."
The Compass and Hutson were featured in the McAlester News-Capital's latest episode of "mmm...That's Tasty" — a video series that spotlights restaurants in southeast Oklahoma.
The videos can be found on the paper's website at www.mcalesternews.com and on the McAlester News-Capital's YouTube channel.
The "mmm...That's Tasty" podcast is also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Spreaker — and anyone can listen, subscribe, and follow for free.
Restaurants and other food and drink establishments can be nominated to be featured on "mmm...That's Tasty" by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Compass' menu consists of more than just pizza with offerings of sandwiches, steak, pastas, and salads along with other items as Hutson tries hard to not have his restaurant pegged as "Italian."
"I want to try new things," said Hutson. "That's what part of like trying not to be pegged as an Italian only or this or that has allowed us to do."
He said most of the items that make the menu are daily specials that were popular.
"Most specials are what I really like or what I want to eat and then if they hit off really good we say 'well, lets save that. Next time we do our menu we just put it on there full time,'" Hutson said. "A lot of its just trial and error."
Hutson said he has been asked why he keeps his restaurant in McAlester and not move it or open up a restaurant in a bigger city.
"A lot of people come in and are like 'what are you doing in a small town and like if you were in Dallas you'd be a packed house every night' and I'm like 'well, I don't like the traffic, I'm sorry,'" Hutson said.
"Every community has its issues but I'm not moving," he added. "We're here for life."
The Compass offers dine-in and carry out and can be ordered by calling 918-470-3100. Delivery is also available by visiting www.compass.pizza or through McAlester2Go.
Contact Derrick James at email@example.com