The place is a restaurant consultant’s nightmare though: The wait for food is over an hour. Sometimes two. You can’t call up and order a pie either. You have to do it in person. Ask how long your order will take and you get a shrug. There’s a permanent line all the way out the door yet the only person allowed to touch the pizzas is DeMarco. He grows his own spices on the windowsill and cuts the basil right onto the pies with a pair of shears. Prices are double what other neighborhood pizzerias charge: A regular pie costs $20. A slice costs $5 (but you can only get one of those when DeMarco feels like it). Also, the place is a mess. No one wipes the tables after meals. Stacks of used bottles line the walls. Smoke from the ovens clogs the whole room.
I’m sure if you asked restaurant business experts, they’d say he should take phone orders and reservations. He should expand to a bigger location and hire others to work with him in the kitchen. He should clean the place up and buy some nicer tables. But it’s pretty clear that DeMarco doesn’t give a shit.
The freedom of small businesses
DeMarco doesn’t care about experts, franchising, or expansion because he doesn’t have to. That’s what you can do when you run your own small business. You can stay small. You can create your own thing and keep it the way you want it. You can take pride in what you’re creating and oversee everything that comes out of your oven. If people don’t like the wait, they can go somewhere else. If they don’t want to pay extra for the ingredients you grow yourself or import from Italy, that’s fine. You can be a perfectionist and take as long as you want. And the customers that care about what you care about will flock to you.
The reward: You get to satisfy customers and make money. But beyond that, you get to love what you do. Your work doesn’t feel like a job. It feels like art. You get to feel passion. Instead of counting the days to retirement, you keep working. Because you’re already doing what you love.
“There’s no money in the world they could pay me for it”
In “Charred Bubbles, and Other Secrets of the Slice,” DeMarco explains:
Nobody taught me to make the pizza. You gotta pick it up for yourself. All of these 40 years, I keep experimenting. My pizza is good, because I use fresh tomatoes. They come from Italy, from Salerno. Then I started to get mozzarella from Italy, from my hometown in the province of Caserta. It’s $8 a pound, and this parmesan, it’s $12. It comes twice a week. This might have been made two days ago, or three days ago.
I do this as an art. I don’t look to make big money. If somebody comes over here and offers me a price for the store, there’s no price. There’s no money in the world they could pay me for it. I’m very proud of what I do.
Here DeMarco explains how he makes his pies and whether he counts hours:
I come over here at 8 o’clock in the morning, sometimes 7, because I use fresh dough. I come from Italy, and I go back there every once in a while to see how they do it over there. They don’t throw it in the icebox. It’s not supposed to be cold dough. The fresh dough bubbles when you put it in the oven, and the bubbles get a little burnt. You see the pizza, and it’s got a lot of black spots, it’s Italian pizza. If you see pizza that’s straight brown, it’s not Italian pizza.
We make the dough three or four times a day, because I believe in fresh dough. Besides, when you use fresh dough, the pizza comes out thin, not thick.
We start to close at 10 o’clock, but I never count the hours, because I’m a farmer. We go into the farm early in the morning, and we go home when the moon arrives. No problem…
I don’t intend to retire. But I want my kids to take over the place. They’ve got to follow me. They’ve got to follow my idea. Like I said, I don’t take the shortcuts.
Pizza has become considered a fast food. This one is slow food. Anything you do, when you do it too fast, it’s no good. The way I make a pizza takes a lot of work. And I don’t mind work.
Here’s a video someone shot of DeMarco at work. As a video, it’s a bit slow-moving. But I guess that’s the point.