• Sean Dempsey, who owns Dempsey’s Restaurant & Brewpub and Danger von Dempsey’s Pizza + Brewhaus, started the Read by the Slice program to give back to the community and inspire more kids to read.
  • The South Dakota Library Association showed its appreciation recently by giving Dempsey its statewide Friend of the Library Award.

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When U.S. Pizza Team (USPT) member Sean Dempsey isn’t slapping out pizza dough and winning culinary competitions, you can probably find him curled up with a good book. Or, at least, listening to one. Now he’s got an award plaque to put atop his bookshelf, thanks to a reading program he provides for kids in Watertown, South Dakota.

Dempsey is the owner of Dempsey’s Restaurant & Brewpub in Watertown as well as Danger von Dempsey’s Pizza + Brewhaus in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Understandably, finding time to read isn’t as easy for him as it used to be. But he started a program that motivates Watertown kids to discover the wide and wonderful world of books, and the program recently earned him a Friend of the Library Award from the South Dakota Library Association.

Called Read by the Slice, the program is offered through the Watertown Regional Library and aimed at children in grades K-8. For each child, one hour of reading earns one free slice of pizza, and eight hours wins a whole 8” pizza.

“We started this program in the spring of 2021, and last year we awarded 288 pizzas for 344,000 minutes of reading,” Dempsey said. “Our goal is to double this.”

Dempsey accepts his Friend of the Library award.

He also wants to expand the reading program to Aberdeen in 2023.

As a child, Dempsey took part in reading programs like Pizza Hut’s Book It! But that program, he noted, “had been long gone, so I kind of thought it was a good time to create our own. I have some pretty kick-ass dough, and kids love pizza. Win-win.”

“It’s a pretty sick program,” Dempsey added. “My original goal was looking to expand our community outreach, and since I spent a lot of time as a kid in the library, I thought that would be a great place to do something. The original plan was for silently and slowly sponsoring books, where we would ‘buy’ a book off the needs list and they would shelve it, but I figured that wasn’t really big enough.”

The Read by the Slice program turned out to be big enough to impress librarians from across the state. But Dempsey didn’t know the award was meant for him until he arrived at the South Dakota Library Association Convention. “They told me I was invited as part of the Watertown Regional Library Delegation to accept the award because of the Read by the Slice program, not that I was getting an award personally due to the work we’ve done with it,” he recalled.

Dempsey said he has always been an “avid reader.” While he prefers nonfiction history and fantasy literature, he also likes to “dabble in the bigger authors’ works.”

“I’ve been forced lately to do more audiobooks than the old paper books,” he said, “but there is very little in life that beats a cup of coffee and a good book.”

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