The Now Pizzeria
A former teenage dishwasher at this Buffalo-area pizzeria has taken the once-hippie takeout peddler into three generations of family ownership.
Back in 1969, James Wilson opened a little pizzeria in Hamburg, New York, with a decidedly hippie-esque vibe appropriate for the times—think bright orange decor, black-light posters, and illumination by lava lamp, with pizza sizes offered in mini, mod and maxi. By 1973, a high schooler named Joel Best took a job there, starting at the bottom but quickly rising from dishwasher and floor mopper to pizza maker and eventually manager. “James eventually moved to Florida, and I ran the place,” Joel recalls. “When an opportunity came to buy in 1982, I jumped at the chance, because I knew I could make it even more of a success than it was.”
Before long, the new owner was saturating the market with ads and coupons on everything from bowling score sheets to supermarket receipts. While keeping the pizzeria’s time-tested recipes, he also greatly expanded the menu, nearly doubling the subs and pizza toppings on offer while adding specialty pies, fried foods and wings. Today, with only two inside booths, The Now Pizzeria does brisk business as a mostly takeout operation, with a small patio open in summer, in the heart of Hamburg’s Main Street. But its success secrets, Joel believes, are no revelation. “We get the best we can in terms of food quality, keep a clean restaurant, and make sure all of our employees are very friendly, greeting everyone who walks in,” he says. “One regular tells me he was the second customer ever, back in ’69, and he still comes in a couple times every week!”
Indeed, many longtime customers remember Joel from his dishwashing days—and have seen his own children and grandchildren not only grow up but enter the business themselves. Daughters Joelene and Jodie have pitched in for 23 and 25 years, respectively, while three teenage grandkids have now joined the team, a boon for a business that’s closed only two days per year, on Thanksgiving and Christmas. But Joel himself is far from retirement mode; he still arrives in the early morning to prep, mixing dough and cutting cheese. “Even when bad snowstorms come through, we’ll be the only ones open, feeding our plowmen, police and firefighters,” Joel explains. “It’s a hands-on business; you can’t expect to have employees run things and not be there. And everyone who works here does every job—if we’re busy, I’ll put you wherever I need you!”
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.