Nick’s Pizza of Newburyport
Despite opening for limited hours while juggling full-time jobs on the side, the LaBarba family has cemented this humble pizzeria’s legacy over three generations.
In 1948, Abruzzo, Italy, transplants Ester and Donato DePalma opened a small trattoria in Newburyport, Massachusetts, serving up rectangular pan pizzas and subs inspired by their homeland. After a 1953 move two blocks away (the business’ current location), Ester’s niece and nephew, Gilda and Aldo, joined the ranks to help out; by 1957, Gilda and her husband, Nicola “Nick” LaBarba, took over the business, renaming it Nick’s Pizza. Both juggled full-time jobs, so the pizzeria was open only three days a week, Friday to Sunday. In the early ’70s, they moved to a pizza-only menu, and in 1985 he started opening on Thursdays, too.
Their son, Frank LaBarba, current owner of Nick’s, took over in 1990 when Nick wanted to semi-retire from the pizzeria. But Frank, too, worked full-time, as a mechanical engineer, for 33 years while overseeing the pizzeria with his wife, Tiziana. When he retired from that job, the pizzeria expanded to a five-day workweek, but the menu still consists of pizza only (alongside a sole salad), in a small space with seven four-person tables. Nevertheless, modern-day additions have helped business boom over the last decade: the launch of delivery service, a Facebook page with thousands of followers, and online ordering to streamline sales. “I think our success comes from being a family business—we care about the product and make sure every pizza comes out perfect,” Frank says. “We do the work ourselves. We’re not absentee owners.”
In fact, despite relying solely on social media and word-of-mouth, LaBarba finds it difficult to keep up with demand—but that doesn’t mean he isn’t seeking further growth. In the future, he may introduce additional menu items like pasta, sandwiches and wings; start an Instagram page; expand the pizzeria’s square footage; or, with hopes of bringing his two daughters on board, even open a second location. But, for now, he’s happy to spend his time tending the oven, chatting with regulars—and welcoming new customers, who quickly become converts. “The most challenging thing is time; there’s so much to do and no time to get it all done!” Frank says. “When you work morning until night and face those stressful busy times, it can really wear you. But, at the end, it’s rewarding. If you don’t like to work, this is not the job for you.”
By Tracy Morin