EricS.

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This Salem, Massachusetts, pizzeria effortlessly balances the old- and new-school, remaining a first adopter of technologies without sacrificing customer face time.

mandees1960s-2Emanuel Distefano went by the name of “Man Dee,” the moniker that inspired his pizzeria in Salem, Massachusetts, back in 1962. Around 1975, he passed the reins to a local college professor, Chuck Stasio, but it was a teenage employee, John Theodorakopoulos (a.k.a. Theo), who transported the pizzeria into the future. By 16, Theo had already worked his way up to supervisor; at 18, he used his college savings to buy the pizzeria from his mentor in 1986. “I really wanted to be in business for myself, and I ran the pizzeria like it was my own from a young age,” Theo recalls. “I always told Chuck, ‘Someday, you’re going to be working for me!’”

Mandee’s still follows the same authentic recipes—hand-tossed Italian pies with fresh dough made daily and sauce from imported San Marzano tomatoes—but has improved operations with modern technology, like conveyor ovens. Theo still considers Mandee’s “old-school and family-owned and -operated”; his daughter, Alicia, majors in hospitality while helping out at the pizzeria, and his sister and brother-in-law own a sister location in nearby Lynn. But Theo has always been a first adopter of technology, investing in an early-era POS system in the late ’80s; starting a live pizza cam on dial-up back in 1990; and initiating online ordering a decade ago. New-school techniques (email marketing, a loyalty program and social media) join more personalized approaches, including new customer thank-you cards; follow-ups at 30, 60 and 90 days; and postcard apologies when deliveries run longer than desired. “I’ll do old-fashioned phone calls if I haven’t seen a regular customer in a while,” Theo adds. “Maybe they had a problem and didn’t say anything—most customers don’t complain, they just don’t come back. So it’s really important to reach out.”

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Doing a little bit of outreach every day adds up, and Theo is a firm believer in staying in-store, doing any job needed—making dough, doing dishes, mopping floors. The self-professed “tinkerer and problem-solver” also freely experiments with trendy new toppings and combinations; recent hits include spicy pies like the Chicken Sriracha. “Although we’re a mom-and-pop pizzeria, I’m very professional,” Theo says. “I really care about my customers and reputation, because that’s all you really have. My mentor always told me, I don’t work for him—I work for the customer. They’re here for the food, but they’re also here for you. I want them to think of Mandee’s as not only a pizza shop, but as a local guy who really cares about the community.”

By Tracy Morin

3 Comments

  1. DistefanoReply
    January 12, 2017 at 8:01 pm

    It’s spelled Distefano.

    From one of his grandkids

    • EricS.Reply
      January 13, 2017 at 11:26 am

      Thanks for the correction! We’ll get that fixed. Our apologies for the mistake!

  2. Marie DiStefanoReply
    January 12, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    ManDee started this business working every day for many years, during those days he lost his wife to cancer, was left to raise 7 children and manage a business. If we didn’t suffer such tragic loss of our mother, we the DiStefano family would still be the proud and still are the proud founders of ManDees Pizza
    The DuStefano children

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