PZA Gourmet Pizza/VisitingNewEngland small business partnership - Local Small Business Stories
PZA Gourmet Pizza in Salem, Mass., Rises Toward the Top of the
Boston Area Pizza Scene
How a talented pizza
maker and savvy businessman collaborated on creating a whole new
paradigm for the neighborhood pizza place
Article and photos, unless otherwise noted, by Eric Hurwitz. Article
created on 6/10/2019.
Made-from-scratch pizzas at PZA in Salem.
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Steve Sampson and George Tsatsis have taken the
basic house of pizza concept and given it an extreme home makeover at
PZA Gourmet Pizza in Salem, Mass.
In a pizza world where order-taking responses like "10 minutes, please"
and "Is that all?" say it all about the Anytown USA assembly-line
approach, Sampson and Tsatsis seem determined to break the chain
mentality and throw overboard the dive pizza shop approach. They have
clearly succeeded on many levels.
Dining room at PZA Gourmet Pizza. Photo credit: PZA Gourmet
Sampson, 56, brings client fulfillment, brand loyalty, technology and
marketing experience to PZA Gourmet Pizza. Tsatsis has taken what he
learned from his dad at the Lynnfield House of Pizza -- in business
since the late 70s -- and given PZA a modern edge without compromising
the most critical tenet of the very best pizza out there. That would
simply be not forgetting to make it taste great.
The collaboration makes sense. Sampson started his own software
business at age 23 catered for the salon industry as well as having
many other successful online and offline businesses. Taking over from
his dad, Tsatsis operated the Lynnfield House of Pizza up until the
last five years. He found the sales doubled in just three years by simply
updating the business.
Steve and George met by chance in 2015 while vacationing in Aruba.
Although both grew up north of Boston, they had never met until that
time. They built some good camaraderie, started brainstorming about
opening a "new fast, casual food concept," stayed in contact and eventually chose the Salem State
University neighborhood to open PZA Gourmet Pizza in Oct. 2018. While
Salem State students and staff frequent PZA (University administrative
offices are up above in the building and the main campus across the street), it is
mostly the Salem and
nearby Marblehead neighborhood residents that eat at PZA --
sometimes several times a week.
"We wanted to make everything just a bit better without ruining our
great pizza that people love," said Sampson, a Bentley University
(Waltham, Mass.) graduate.
In simple metaphorical terms, Tsatis represents a working-class slice
of the American Dream while Sampson augments that timeless small
business mission as a bottom-line businessman by bringing in the dough.
"I have the expertise in business and marketing and George really knows
his pizza," said Sampson.
The origins of the business name came from a visit to New York City, N.Y.,
where George saw a sign with Greek Style lettering at GRK Fresh Greek
"He said to me, 'Let's do something like this," so we did by coming up with PZA Gourmet Pizza," said Steve.
PZA Gourmet Pizza storefront. Photo credit: PZA Gourmet Pizza.
They expanded the menu far beyond pizza, brought in a self-order
kiosk (to be operating soon) and facilitated text ordering as
well as services like GrubHub and faster delivery. The dining room
looks modern with its industrial ceiling, hanging lights, sleek
woodblock tables (there's seating for 47), open kitchen, brick and wood-paneled walls, a pleasing ubiquitous
charcoal color scheme and wide screen televisions. The
staff is bright, hard-working, responsive and committed in a restaurant genre that typically experiences high turnover rates.
This is clearly not your typical mom and pop pizza place.
"We try to be like the Starbucks of pizza with a cool space laid out
thoughtfully and with TVs and free WiFi," said Sampson. "It's like the
traditional pizza places on steroids. We looked at a lot of cool pizza
places on Instagram and used a local architectural firm to come up with
what we have here."
Pizza for the 21st Century
All the modern elements and conveniences at PZA Gourmet Pizza
would be for naught if the pizza wasn't good. Because of George and Steve
believing that pizza is a staple of the American diet, they knew right
from the beginning that PZA's version better be good as the Boston area
is over saturated with pizza places.
The pizza is so good that this writer would place the quality right up
with with local legends like Santarpio's, Regina Pizzeria, The Pleasant
Cafe, New London Pizza, Ernesto's Pizzeria, the Lynwood Cafe, Town Spa Pizza, Cape Cod
Pizza and the Venus Cafe. Credit George for taking the family recipes
and his deft know-how on how to bring everything to the next level at PZA Gourmet Pizza.
"We took everything that the Lynnfield House of
offers and just made it better," said Steve. "Our goal is to put out
The classic Greek-style pizza gets a fabulous thin crust, void of the
grease that tends to often impede this style of pizza. The
cheddar/mozzarella cheese, homemade tomato sauce and oregano taste
comes out in proper balance with not one flavor overwhelming the other.
They also make a gluten-free crust, Detroit-style thick crust and a
novel cauliflower-based crust called the "Skinny Pizza."
Although one can certainly order standards like cheese and pepperoni
pizzas at PZA Gourmet Pizza, it is clear that a newer generation of
pies take front
and center stage whether as slices or whole pies.
The chicken parm pizza takes that favorite Italian-American dish and
transforms it into a pizza with chicken cutlets, marinara sauce, fresh
mozzarella and grated Parmesan cheese.
Chicken parm pizza.
The Big Mac Attack evokes the taste of that classic hamburger with
ground hamburg, lettuce, pickle, red onion and a thousand island
Big Mac Attack Pizza. Photo credit: PZA Gourmet Pizza.
The Texas Pizza features grilled chicken smothered in barbecue sauce,
caramelized onions and bacon over a white pizza.
The Texas Pizza. Photo credit: PZA Gourmet Pizza.
The Old World Pizza combines sausage, pepperoni, caramelized onions and
roasted red peppers...
Old World Pizza. Photo
credit: PZA Gourmet Pizza.
But then again, you can't go wrong with the cheese pizza that clearly
has the fabulous tasty template that the Lynnfield House of Pizza served for so many years...
Cheese pizza from PZA Gourmet Pizza.
Or the pepperoni with plenty of cheese and topping over that fabulous
For those who prefer calzone over pizza,
PZA also turns out a
masterful version as in the case of the chicken parm and steak and
Chicken parm calzone. Photo credit: PZA Gourmet Pizza.
Steak and cheese calzone. Photo credit: PZA Gourmet Pizza.
Going way beyond pizza
"People are not going to pizza places three times a week
consistently," said Steve. "But they might have pizza one day, a
salad with grilled chicken the next day, a roast beef sandwich the next
day, a power bowl the next, etc."
PZA Gourmet Pizza not only offers an extended menu but
makes sure to do
things the right way (translated: favoring unique and flavorful over
generic and bland) with its subs, wraps, burger bar selections, club
sandwiches, salads, dinner plates, rice and power bowls and pasta dinners.
The Terrikyaki Rice Bowl with grilled chicken is a good place to
Chicken terriyaki rice bowl. Photo
credit: PZA Gourmet Pizza.
Pizza and salad always seem like an ideal pizza
house eat-in or take-out duo. Here, the PZA Greek Salad transcends the typical iceberg and store-bought vegetable
Greek salad. Photo credit: PZA Gourmet Pizza.
On the traditional American diet side, PZA also knows how to
make a nice, juicy burger with fries on the side...
Burger from PA Gourmet Pizza. Photo credit: PZA
PZA also shows off its true comfort food side with this waffle fries, bacon and cheese dish...
Waffle fries, bacon and cheese. Photo
credit: PZA Gourmet Pizza.
PZA also honors the North Shore tradition of the great roast
beef sandwich with its own stellar version...
Roast beef sandwich. Photo credit: PZA
The Boston area has been known for its great sub shops
through the years like Santoro's and Lena Subs. PZA follows that grand
tradition with this Italian sub...
The Italian. Photo credit: PZA Gourmet Pizza.
Many classic North Shore diners serve up tasty club
sandwiches, but PZA can assume that role, also...
Turkey club. Photo credit: PZA Gourmet Pizza.
PZA also makes some mouthwatering chicken wings...
Chicken wings. Photo credit: PZA Gourmet Pizza.
The concept of PZA Gourmet Pizza could have come across as
trendy and gimmicky, but, fortunately, the business acumen of Sampson
and the culinary wizardry of Tsatsis help avoid any pitfalls. In
today's restaurant world, gourmet often translates to overpriced. A
spotlessly clean dining spot with modern design can often result in a
sterile look. A college area pizza location can often come across as
hectic and cramped with pizza turned out assembly-line style.
On the contrary, PZA Gourmet Pizza comes across as warm and inviting,
and clean and modern but with personality and a hometown vibe. It's also spacious
and comfortable in, well, that Starbucks kind of way. George clearly
creates food from love and tradition -- not just through those mere
words but by continuously evolving his craft from a very strong family
Chicken bacon ranch pizza.
Steve and George have created something special here and hope to open five to 10
more PZA Gourmet Pizza locations in the next five years within college area settings. They have their business eye on
the prize by ultimately wanting to franchise PZA.
The true prize, however, is living in the moment -- that is, seeing
their first business succeed in a short amount of time through
everything together under one roof for the locals to enjoy. It's like a
greatest hits collection of what makes the best pizza places so great.
There's definitely some pop in this updated mom and pop pizza spot that
brings in up to a couple of hundred people every day for lunch and
"No one else does what we do here," said Steve. "Forty-five percent (of
our business) is pizza and the rest is all the other stuff we do. And
then there's the setting, perfect for hanging out without feeling
cramped or rushed.
Families and really everyone seems to be satisfied what we are doing
PZA Gourmet Pizza is located at 331
Lafayette St. in Salem, MA. Tel. 508-594-4973. Web site: http://www.pzasalem.com.
small business story to enjoy reading: Four
Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, Mass. (Cape Cod)
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