I don’t remember the first pizza I ever ate, but I remember my first perfect pizza moment. I was 12 years old, a shy, skinny doofus at a skating party with a girl named Amy. It was sort of a date, but neither of us wanted to call it that. I couldn’t even skate and had no business being there. Amy, a brown-eyed, chestnut-haired beauty with a fiery tomboy spirit, whisked and whizzed around the rink with her girlfriends to K.C. and the Sunshine Band, while I sulked and played pinball in the corner, trying to look, you know…too cool for roller skates. I didn’t even notice when the pizza came, until Amy, leaving the others behind, came gliding over with a paper plate—a slice for her and a slice for me. We sat on a bench, our knees just barely touching, and listened to “Moonlight Feels Right” by Starbuck, and never mind that the pizza was greasy and limp and probably came from some grocery store freezer. Then and there, in that moment, I wouldn’t have traded that warmed-over slice for a golden monkey.
Such is the power of pizza. Pizza makes everything better. Pizza with a pretty girl who digs you even though you can’t skate and you just fed six dollars in quarters into a pinball machine and never even scored an extra ball makes it perfect.
I tell anyone who will listen that pizza is the world’s most popular food. I have no statistics to prove the claim, but I know it in my heart to be true. There is a National Hamburger Month, but nobody cares. Tacos get their own special day each year. So do baked scallops, corn chips and stuffed mushrooms. You never hear about any of those days. But tell people it’s National Pizza Month, and see how they smile; watch their eyes light up.
Tell someone you make pizza for a living—or, in my case, write about it—and they wish they had your job.
“People are, by nature, communal, and pizza is the world’s great communal food,” master pizzaiolo John Arena, owner of Metro Pizza in Las Vegas, once told me. “War in Afghanistan? Global warming? Riots in the heartland? Hunker down with your loved ones and share a pizza. The problems may not disappear, but at least you won’t be alone when the zombie apocalypse begins.”
We may grab a Quarter Pounder from McDonald’s and scarf it down in the car on our lunch break. After a long day, we may order Chinese and stare at the TV until we fall asleep on the La-Z-Boy. But we share pizza with the people we love. We order pizza for the big game on Sunday afternoon. We take the kids out for pizza on Friday night. We reward our Little League or soccer team with pizza when they win—and cheer them up with pizza when they lose. If we want to build camaraderie at the office, we order pizza, and, suddenly, working late on a tight deadline feels more like a party than a high-stress project.
With pizza, we sit down together, we eat and we talk. Where there’s pizza, there’s togetherness. Which explains why pizza is and always has been a family business. Read Tracy Morin’s Pizza Hall of Fame column in each issue of PMQ, and you’ll see that virtually every story is about family, about fathers and sons and grandsons, mothers and daughters and granddaughters. It’s about husbands and wives, too, who have held fast to each other through depressions and recessions, through wars and social upheaval. It’s about couples and partners who work long days and late into the night to feed their children, feed their customers and feed their own souls. Because every family-owned pizza restaurant is, above all else, a labor of love.
“My dad had a day job and worked in the family pizzeria at night,” Arena told me. “He’d come home tired and kiss me goodnight as I lay in bed. I could smell the pizza on him, and I associated that aroma with the love my father had for me.”
I’ll bet many of our readers had the same experience.
“If music be the food of love, play on,” Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night. But even Shakespeare got it wrong sometimes. The food of love is an actual food—pizza. And National Pizza Month is a celebration of that love, of family, of friendship, of the traditions and triumphs of our past and our hopes for the future. And it’s a celebration of the moment you’re enjoying right now, with a slice in your hand and the flavor of fresh, warm cheese and salty pepperoni on your tongue.
That perfect moment—brought to you by the world’s greatest food.