When God tells you to open a pizzeria, you’d better listen. Lynn Lapka, pastor of the Cornerstone Faith Center in St. Ignatius, Montana, did exactly that, and the proceeds from the business have been helping this small town of 800 ever since.
Back in February 2011, Lapka found himself staring out the window and praying as a blizzard blew through St. Ignatius, which is located on the Flathead Indian Reservation. He worried that his church wasn’t doing enough for the community and needed to be redefined.
“In that moment,” according to a story on the Assemblies of God website, “God seemed to respond with an outlandish reply: Reopen the pizza shop on Blaine Street.”
Inspired, Lapka got permission from his church’s board to create Cornerstone Pizza, a social enterprise whose profits go back to the local public schools and other organizations. The pizzeria has helped pay for a new playground at the elementary school and stocks a supply closet for teachers who have already spent their annual budget.
“You wouldn’t believe how many glue sticks a class of first-graders can go through in a year,” Tyler Arlint, principal of the local school, says in the article. “Our teachers are so glad they don’t have to keep buying things like this out of their pocket. They just email their wishes to Cornerstone, and the supplies quickly show up in the closet. This has opened a lot of warm feelings among our teachers, to have somebody just give to their work with no strings attached.”
With “a lot of trial and error,” Lapka taught himself to make pizza, saying he “knew the taste I was looking for.” Some of Cornerstone’s signature pizzas have biblical names, such as the King David (pepperoni, sausage, olives, onions, bell peppers and mushrooms) and the Fiery Furnace (a white pie with a Ranch dressing base and chicken doused in Frank’s Red Hot Sauce), as well as the all-meats Goliath. Then there's the epic Takedown, which combines the King David and the Goliath into one soul-stirring giant of a pizza.
Last spring, Cornerstone Pizza held a week-long fundraiser and handed over a check for $1,300 to pay for eighth-graders at St. Ignatius Middle School to take part in the “Tour of Montana,” a 900-mile journey around Montana that focuses on the state’s history and landmarks. Throughout the week, kids worked in the pizzeria, assembling boxes, washing dishes and bringing carry-out orders to customers. “The whole town seems to show up or call in to help them,” Lapka says.
The shop also has raised money for the local Special Olympics team and periodically runs promotions for special occasions, such as Pi Day on March 14, and holds pizza-eating contests and back-to-school events for kids and adults.
Next on Lapka’s agenda: Resurrecting a defunct motel to provide short-term housing for needy people as well as lodging for tourists passing through on their way to Glacier National Park.
“They do so many things among so many people and groups,” Arlint says. “They get a lot of involvement from a lot of different stakeholders. It’s truly a great unifying factor for the community.”