• Midcentury Medfield Memories: Pizza Wars

    by  • July 23, 2019 • Main Street, Medfield, North Street • 0 Comments

    Medfield has often been at the vanguard of pop culture.  Back in the late 1950s, pizza was making its debut in restaurants in and around town. It was a portent of more Italian food on the menus at the Colonial Inn and Frances Café for Medfield families. This enthusiasm sparked the beginning of our pizza wars in town, though not a single shot was fired.

    (Pizza wars in New York have a sharper edge, as explained below and in the accompanying picture.)

    According to Wikipedia, people in the Mediterranean region ate flatbreads with vegetable and cheese toppings thousands of years ago.  The first use of the word “pizza” occurred in 997 A.D. in Gaeta, a coastal city between Rome and Naples. In the late 18th century, Neapolitan bakers added tomato to the toppings, giving birth to modern pizza.

    American troops in Italy in and after World War II brought home their newly-acquired taste for pizza and other Italian dishes.

    Super Duper market on Main Street where the CVS is located today.

    In Medfield, frozen pizza appeared in 1958 in Medfield’s first supermarket, Super Duper. Pizza’s popularity got a real boost when they started serving seven-inch pizzas in school cafeterias in response to a chorus of kids’ requests. The cooks in the school cafeteria used to claim, “People don’t like pizza that much.”

    One of the very first pizza places to open in Medfield center was “Fayo’s” in the Vasto building next to Lord’s.  Fayo Rossi opened it in 1961.  Fayo installed padded seats along the counter near the door, or customers could sit at tables in the back.  Or customers could order pizza to go (no delivery).

    The original owners, Pat & Elena Ciampa, visiting the newly re-modeled CasaBella!

    Fayo’s pizza came in one size only and with a short list of toppings: pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, onion, garlic, anchovies, and extra cheese.  Fayo’s also had a good variety of other Italian foods like meatball, Italian, chicken and veal parm subs, spaghetti and cheese ravioli.

    Fayo sold his business to Italian immigrants, Mr. and Mrs. Pat Ciampa, in the late 60s, who renamed it Casa Bella.  When Pat retired, his son John ran the restaurant and continued using his mother’s recipe for Italian tomato sauce.  Pizza wars? John used to say that it didn’t matter how many pizza places there were in Medfield because “There’s plenty of business to go around for everybody.”

    John sold Casa Bella seven years ago to a Brazilian family who now operate the business. The newer decor is pleasantly distinctive with the framed, iconic photo of Christ the Redeemer statue high above over Rio de Janeiro.

    Royal Pizza on Main Street.

    In the late 60s, Jimmy Exarhopoulos opened Royal Pizza, featuring the Greek style of “pan” pizza. Jimmy had an engaging and jovial personality and was always very diplomatic, especially with rambunctious younger kids. After Jimmy, in 1989 came Steve Tragellis, also of Greek descent, with his business degree from Northeastern, his family, employees Jacob Makdissi, Scott Quinan, and Vasilis Distitzianos, and others through the years.

    Steve has at times dedicated different pizzas in honor of Medfield High School, especially the pizza that’s topped with baked macaroni and other specialties in honor of the Medfield Warriors.

    For a time, Royal Pizza stayed open for Super Bowl Sunday; customer would sit, eating their pizzas and subs while watching the entire game. But after many years of staying open on Sundays, Steve decided to make Sundays a day of rest for him and his family. Royal Pizza has won many awards for Medfield’s Best Pizza.

    Medfield House of Pizza on North Street.

    Only 50 feet away is Medfield House of Pizza at 10 North St. across the street from Starbucks. It’s owned and operated by Eddie “Adib” Khoury, who worked for many years at Royal Pizza and remains a good friend of Steve. In addition to pizza, Eddie has also been serving up a great menu of tasty Lebanese foods like falafel and fattoush salads. Eddie is no stranger to preparing quality food as he previously owed and ran the juice bodega, “Go Fresh,” now included at his newer location. He’s the fun and successful face of Middle Eastern foods in Medfield.

    Papa Gino’s on North Meadow Road.

    Since 1961, Papa Gino’s has been making and serving pizza with the same menu across the USA. But it’s the employees who are cheerful and different. The Medfield Papa Gino’s is at 10 C North Meadows Road in the small strip mall close to the Dunkin’s on Main Street.

    Nationally, Papa Gino’s restaurants have fallen on hard times, but locally, General Manager David Miller and supervisor Kara Lorkiewicz have maintained the popularity of their restaurant, with fresh direction from a new owner.

    The long-gone Pizza Hut of 1999 operated inside the D’Angelo’s next to CVS.  Pizza Hut offered the Hawaiian-style pizza with pineapple topping. It didn’t go over well. Many people thought it irreverent to have something like sweet pineapple on an Italian style pizza. (Wikipedia says that pizzas used to be much sweeter than we’ve been accustomed to for the last hundred years.)

    Hawaiian pizza

    However, enterprising teenagers up late on the weekends would order the new confection “to go” over the phone and then hope the Pizza Hut staff would throw the pizza out after nobody came to claim it by closing time. The clever, hungry kids would stay hidden close by in order to grab the free pineapple pizza from the dumpster before it got ruined by more food that was thrown out at closing time. But a combination of poor management and poor pizza reviews caused the Pizza Hut to close in a short time.

    Louies Pizza in Millis.

    You don’t have to travel far to find another great and authentic pizza: Louie’s Pizzeria at the Milliston Common. Two Egyptian brothers, Ramon and Zach Gerges, have owned it for six years; they bake their pizza New York style in a wood stove that makes the perfect pizza. They get great reviews on Google.

    It has also turned into a family business with Ramon’s wife, Sara cooking food and working behind the counter. Likewise, Louie’s has been able to maintain a consistent work force with many other people from the middle-eastern community in and around the town of Millis. The daily menu is most always different with a variety of freshly made subs.

    What’s it like to run a pizza place?  As Ramon from Louie’s Pizzeria put it, “It’s a lot of hard work!” Sometimes the attitude has to be like what Eddie, from the Medfield House of Pizza declared, “He’s in it to win it!” There’s good money to be made, but sometimes at a personal cost. The owners and staff have to make the dough, the sauce, buy fresh condiments, cook the meat toppings, assure the oven always runs at 550 degrees. Those are only the preliminaries, while sometimes working a 16 hour day, 7 days a week. Keeping the establishment clean is a priority and can easily influence whether a customer wants to keep coming to your place to eat. The staff has to be upbeat and sociable to an extent. The delivery policy has to be reasonable and on time, because some of the pizza places in the past used to guarantee a free pizza if the baked food didn’t get to them within a half hour after getting on the road. These are just a few of the many obligations.

    Pizza wars in New York City.

    This story is reminiscent of what took place back in March of 2012, when there were “Pizza Wars” in Manhattan, NYC. The story involved two pizza restaurants that were side by side on 37th street, at mid-town on the Avenue of the Americas. In a city that has thousands of pizzerias, those two locations kept on under-pricing one another from $ 3.50 a slice to $ 1.00 in just a few days. Some owners even feared that the price could have gone as low as $ .75, but it never did after cooler heads prevailed. To make matters worse, those slices didn’t even taste very good! In such a big city with eight million people it all came down to supply and demand and competition.

    Fortunately, here in the Medfield setting of a small country town, we don’t have to experience that kind of farcical, fly-by-night pizza story. Graciously, we can recall and refer to the optimism of the late John Ciampa who said, “There’s plenty of business to go around for everybody!”

    About

    Tim Flaherty, a lifelong Medfield resident, served in the Peace Corps in Africa and in Central America. He has published numerous articles and is nearing completion of his second novel.

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