Dojo Pizza: Pizza and Karate in a Century-Old Former Church

Categories: Hidden Gem

Welcome to Hidden Gem, Gut Check's short love letter to restaurants, coffee shops and bars that lie off the beaten path. These places soldier on in relative anonymity, beloved by their regulars, but largely overlooked by the greater populace. Hidden Gem will attempt to rectify these terrible oversights. Have a Hidden Gem of your own to share? Tell us in the comments.

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Dojo Pizza volunteers Ashlee Copp, Keisha Regans and Kathryn Copp. | Photos by Mabel Suen
"Where'd you get that pizza from?" some hungry construction workers yell from the top of an adjacent building as they see us loading a box of leftovers into a getaway vehicle.

"There. Right there," says my dining companion in response, pointing to the 100-year-old church we just walked out of. The men reply flabbergasted, unsure if they heard us right: "Where?!"

The red-and-yellow banner that reads MRCKA's Dojo Pizza (4601 Morganford Road; 314-351-0935) seems minuscule in comparison to the towering former Christy Memorial United Methodist Church, but those that take notice will find a unique community and worthwhile eats inside the historic building.

See also: Dojo Pizza Works With Kids in Bevo on Both Karate and Pizza

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Hand-tossed sausage and banana pepper pizza.
MRCKA stands for Ma-ji Christian Karate Association, a non-profit organization that purchased the church building two years ago to provide a safe place for neighborhood kids to hang out and take free karate lessons.

Shortly after opening its lower-level gym as a dojo last year, the group inherited all the makings of a pizza kitchen via a student's parent -- convection ovens and all -- and quickly put it to use cooking up pizzas for students and community events.

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The refurbished dining room.
Now, anyone can stop in to have a pie and simultaneously lend a helping hand. All proceeds go toward keeping the youth center up and running, and the kids even get to keep the tips.

On April 19, the doors to the chapel officially opened to the public as MRCKA's Dojo Pizza's refurbished dining room, a setting of intricate stained glass windows, hardwood floors and pews situated around hand-built tables.

Volunteers in full karate garb including Copp and his daughters, Ashlee and Kathryn, act as hosts and servers, offering up a full menu of hand-tossed pizza, salads and chicken wings available in barbecue, buffalo and spicy honey flavors.


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9 comments
Sharon Walker
Sharon Walker

This is why I love St. Louis. .....I recently discovered very swanky restaurants in old car garages too. Such a smart way to not waste a building.

Deb Woods
Deb Woods

I think it is awesome what this guy is doing for the neighborhood kids. Would I want my pizza made by kids who don't necessarily understand restaurant level hygiene? Not really. I have enough trouble eating food from the dirty looking stoners at Elicia's Pizza :-)

Aaron Toben
Aaron Toben

Janet Pratt Toben Dad and I walked right past here!

lcopp1969
lcopp1969

Thank you for your thoughts. I wanted to assure you that we hold high standards for our food service. We have an A rating with the health department, and we would never allow someone to handle the food that is not qualified. Our kids help serve the food, but only those who qualify can make or handle the food.

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