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