Despite everything going on in the world, Frank Pinello is having the best Sunday imaginable. In the early morning, his sister gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy. In the afternoon, he celebrated with his family via FaceTime and stovetop as he braised an Italian-style beef stew from his grandparents’ cookbook.
He’s also preparing for another long week ahead. At Best Pizza, Pinello is working feverishly to care for frontliners, hungry Brooklynites, and his staff all at once. The majority of his crew has been with him for five to ten years. They, too, are family to him and he refuses to let them down or put them in danger.
“Closing down and cutting my losses wasn’t an option,” said Pinello. “I felt like they were going to be the ones losing.”
From the get-go in March, he told his team he’d do whatever it took to keep them paid, even if they didn’t feel comfortable coming to work. “Don’t ride the train if it makes you feel unsafe,” he said. “Stay home, shelter in place, and I’ll kick over as much money as I can.”
Some chose to stay out of the jam-packed subways, leaving a small skeleton crew in the kitchen. Together, Pinello figured they could deliver enough pies and DIY kits to keep things afloat until their small business loan came through. The Best Pizza team held up its end of the bargain; the government did not.
Determined to keep his promise, Pinello turned to his customers for help. The Best Pizza Staff Fund – which pledges a slice on the house for every contributor – raised thousands overnight.
“I was reluctant to do it,” Pinello said. “I wanted to carry the business and pay all of our bills and employees. Then, sales went down to a fraction of what they were. I realized that if I was going to keep this ship above water, I’d have to reach out to the community. Their generosity was unbelievable, and that felt good.”
Even if the next wave of small business funding comes through, there’s no guarantee that the check will be large enough – or come fast enough – to cover the Best Pizza team. In the interim, Pinello is hoping for more donations from those who can afford to give. He’s far from alone. Pizzerias all across the country are scrambling to serve the community and put food on the table for their employees.
“I’m worried for all of the mom and pop restaurants,” Pinello confessed. “But I also know the character, creativity, and resilience of the people behind it. They’re the salt of the earth. Strong. Smart. We will figure it out. It doesn’t matter if that means pivoting to take-home food or doing food in a different way. There will be a way.”