Thanks to a Greek shepherd-turned-tailor and a barefoot teenager looking for a waitress job, this Massachusetts pizzeria has thrived for 55 years.
Greek immigrant Spike Nousis, a shepherd back in his homeland, clearly needed an alternate moneymaker when he arrived in the United States in the 1940s. During a stint as a tailor at a dry cleaning business, he and his wife, Katherine, spotted a building for sale in Leominster, Massachusetts, and quickly jumped at the chance to enter the pizza business. They developed the recipes as they went, opening C&M Pizza in 1964, and struck even more success when, in 1970, they bought a property down the block that afforded supplemental income potential, with the pizzeria joining residential and commercial space.
But just before the move, in 1969, a 17-year-old named Debbie Chesbrough, driving to the shoe store with her mother, would alter the pizzeria’s course for future generations. “She was going to buy new flip-flops and saw a help-wanted sign in the window, so she ran in barefoot and got the job,” recounts Andy Sears, who now co-owns C&M Pizza with Chesbrough, his mother. “With the relationship they built, Spike and Katherine became my godparents when I was born.”
After Spike passed away in the ’90s and the business faced an uncertain future, Chesbrough reached out to Sears, who then owned a mortgage and real estate company. To Katherine’s delight, the mother-son duo purchased the pizzeria in 2003. Though the original recipes remain and in-store nostalgic arcade games thrill kids and adults alike, they’ve made plenty of improvements: equipment upgrades, new menu items, social media marketing, online ordering. Last March, Sears added an immediately successful take-and-bake lineup to the operation, even infiltrating a local grocery store and developing a cauliflower crust. And townspeople showed their approval by recently naming the pizzeria best in town in a contest sponsored by the mayor.
After all, beefing up sales is required in a town that 19 competing pizzerias call home. Sears notes that C&M, celebrating 55 years in 2019, remains a community touchstone, entrenched in local events and schools (for example, offering teachers a free personal pizza to give away to the student of the week). But a lot of its longevity, Sears believes, comes back to basics. “In a busy operation with a lot of staff, mistakes happen—nobody’s perfect—but you need to fix it right away,” he says. “You need great customer service, calling everyone by name so they feel at home. And you can’t cut any corners; people will notice, and it’s not worth it!”
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.