July 21, 2005
BLACK FOREST - The closure of the lone pizza shop wouldn’t have been the end of the world for Black Forest. But who better than Jerry Jenkins to save it? Jenkins, internationally renowned co-author of the apocalyptic “Left Behind” series, rescued the business from the uncertain fate of an auction.
Formerly Black Forest Pies and Grinders, it was seized from the previous owners for nonpayment of taxes in May. Jenkins, a Black Forest homeowner since 1999 and one of the restaurant’s fans, reopened it July 5. He’s not in it for the money. The 12-part “Left Behind” book series cowritten with Tim LaHaye has sold more than 62 million copies since the first volume debuted in 1995. The series starts with the long-predicted Rapture, Christians ascending to heaven while earthbound nonbelievers face the Antichrist. Jenkins, 55, has written 155 books, 17 of them reaching the New York Times bestseller list. He recently sold movie rights to his 2002 book about a prodigy baseball player, “The Youngest Hero,” to former “Seinfeld” star Jason Alexander. He heads the Black Forest-based Christian Writer’s Guild and owns a Los Angeles film company. The pizza shop is intended as a gift for Jenkins’ 22-year-old son, Mike. Jenkins renamed it Big Mike’s, after his 6-foot-6-inch youngest child. Jenkins won’t be a fixture there, particularly as the business gains solid footing. “Writing is still my day job,” he said. So far, most customers don’t recognize him. But at least one did. After confirming Jenkins was indeed the “Left Behind” series co-author, the man leaned toward Jenkins and asked quietly, “Books not selling?” Not only are the books selling, they’ve launched him from faceless author into a small-scale celebrity. He and LaHaye appeared on the May 24, 2004, cover of Newsweek and were featured in the July 1, 2002, issue of Time, among other news magazines and television shows. “I get recognized just enough to make it fun but not so much it’s a nuisance,” said Jenkins, who has helped Billy Graham, Hank Aaron and Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon write their memoirs. The “Left Behind” series outsold those books, and are so popular that Jenkins said he’s no longer surprised to see people reading them. “Most authors don’t have this experience,” he said. “They can go their whole lives and not see anyone reading the book.” The good-humored Jenkins can’t resist occasionally tapping readers on their shoulders, asking their opinions of the books and whether they think he resembles one of the authors. If recognition doesn’t eventually dawn, he said, Jenkins identifies himself and offers an autograph. It’s all a bit surreal. “It’s been 10 years since it started, and it’s still astounding to me,” he said. Some of the “Left Behind” books and Jenkins’ others are displayed on a bookshelf at Big Mike’s, available for customers to peruse as they eat or wait for takeout orders. Wedged among them is “Winning at Losing,” a nonfiction weight-control guide based on his own struggles. The back covers of his earlier books show a round-faced, bearded man, an older-looking version of the slim, goateed author of today. Jenkins now weighs less than he did in high school, a condition he maintains by tracking his intake of calories on a computer. He said that owning a pizza shop won’t sabotage his disciplined routine. “I’m not really into pizza,” Jenkins said.