Two high school sweethearts who met at Bernie’s ended up generating the lifeline that would keep the pizzeria thriving for future generations.
Not much is known about the very early days of Bernie’s Pizza, located in Dallas, Pennsylvania—only that it was started sometime in the 1950s by Bernie Ambrose, a sharp businessman from a family of entrepreneurs. He bought a previous pizza location, stamped his name on the building, and introduced his thin-crust, brick-oven pies to the public. “The earliest business license we can find is from 1969, and he grew to three locations in the area at some point,” recounts current owner Jill Marchakitus. “My family learned a lot from Bernie—he was very intelligent and business-minded.”
Indeed, Marchakitus’ ownership occurred through a string of chance happenings that keeps the pizzeria thriving today. Her parents met at Bernie’s as high school employees of the pizzeria, eventually marrying and starting a family. One especially busy night in the mid-’90s, Ambrose called in Jill’s father to help out, and he brought his daughter along, who also started working at the pizzeria. By 2002, Ambrose, 83 and in poor health, was ready to sell the business to the Marchakitus family—Jill and her two sisters. “After five years, one of my sisters left, and this year the other, while my dad passed in 2006,” Jill says. “Now I’m the sole owner, but my mom and boyfriend still help out with the business. Whatever needs to be done, we get it done!”
Despite a small footprint (less than 900 square feet) and offering takeout pizzas and stromboli only, the Bernie’s recipe remains a hit with locals, many of whom are longtime fans. But the younger generation has also inspired innovations: Now a homemade cauliflower crust (low-carb and gluten-free) and a keto pizza grace the menu, earning rave reviews from diners with special diets. New specialty pizzas are proudly promoted on Facebook and Instagram, while community involvement creates top-of-mind awareness for the Bernie’s brand.
But perhaps the true secret to Bernie’s longevity is the close eye Jill keeps on the business. “For better or worse, I’m there all the time to maintain that focus on quality we’ve always had—keeping true to our original recipe, while being progressive,” she explains. “When you own a pizzeria, get ready to work! But I enjoy it. There are tons of pizzerias here, and they’re all good. But we’ve been around all this time and survived through so much competition because we keep our standards so high and create that personal experience. It’s very rewarding to carry on Bernie’s tradition and create those great relationships with our customers.”
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.