Where I live in Pennsylvania, the old adage of “a pizza shop on every corner” almost applies. Many of the national chains are here (Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Little Caesars, Papa John’s), but local shops flourish even more. Those local shops all serve New York style, and you should expect to hear Italian spoken while they toss the dough.
My family loves pizza, to the point of eating it nearly every Friday—in the twelve years Andrea and I have lived in this part of the country, we’ve built plenty of memories around these places too. For a while, I’ve wanted to compile some of the thoughts and memories we’ve had: nothing profound, but all things I’ve observed and pondered.
Our church hosts a week-long, overnight summer camp every June. About a month after being married, we served for a week in that ministry, but never realized how exhausted we would be when it was all over. It was a sweltering Friday June afternoon. The church bus had brought back all the kids, and we unloaded the massive amount of supplies we’d brought to the campground. Finally, it was over, and suddenly, we were alone.
But we were starving and had little we could cobble together for dinner. Just down the road, though, was one of those local pizza shops. At that time, we had a lot less disposable income, and we were more deliberate with our purchases. The idea of splurging on a pizza without planning it ahead of time made us stop and think. But not for long.
We called up Roma’s in Brogue, ordered a pizza, ate it, then crashed for the night. There’s something special about an unplanned, spontaneous calling for a quick meal. To this day, we still do things like that. It makes for an enjoyable memory to divert from the original plan—all in moderation, of course. And now, when we have a little more flexibility than we did as newlyweds, we still make room for those last-minute, spontaneous choices.
Many of the pizza shops around us are family-owned. One way you can see that is by observing the age of the employees behind the counter. Often, you’ll see young people, some not even teenagers yet. Sure, you can complain about child labor or whatever, but I love seeing kids work with their parents, probably for little wage. I know there can be major issues with family-businesses, but if the kids work with their parents from a young age, it’s a part of who they are. They come home from school, work behind the cashier, do their homework, then do the same thing the next day. I know it disgusts today’s upper-crust hegemony, but observe their children. What are kids most-often doing when they get home from school? Screens. Tell me that’s better than working a cash register and learning to please customers.
Living in the area for twelve years now, I’ve seen these kids grow up. Some I’ve seen get married and have their own kids. Others have their pictures on the wall near the pizza oven, with a diploma from a prestigious university above it. Yes, those same kids who probably made less than minimum wage, working in a bustling restaurant, and having less fun-time than others their age are now excelling. I think working in the family business only helped that.
On the same note, it’s amazing to me how faithful some of the employees are at these small town, Italian immigrant pizza shops. Go to your average Pizza Hut two times in three months, and half the employees will have turned over. Now go to that little shop in the strip plaza. I know one waitress in particular who served Andrea and I before we had kids; then Andrea was expecting our first; here’s baby number one; now number two; three; four! She’s still there, twelve years later, as faithful as ever. And she always guesses what we’re going to order. I doubt the pay is any better than the place down the street, but there must be something that keeps her there.
The owner of that shop is almost always there working too. He’s tossing dough, piling on cheese, pulling from the oven. And this is a busy place! It’s not surprising for him to come out, flour all over his apron, to greet you. I imagine that attitude filters down to his family and employees as well.
I have two more lessons I want to write about—Support Local and Embrace the Unfancy—but I’ll save that for Part II.