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Pizza Friday: A NEPA Tradition

Few topics can so easily enliven dinner table discussions, ignite barstool debates, and draw distinctive battle lines in otherwise friendly conversations. In NEPA, pizza is serious business. It’s also a regional wellspring of pride, tradition, history, and family.

We’ve teamed up with Jim Mirabelli, local pizza guru, and Creator/Owner of NEPA Pizza Review, to explore the less adversarial side of everyone’s favorite saucy, cheesy treat. Stay tuned each month as Jim explores unique pizza topics, trends, and the occasional pizza mystery.

In NEPA, If It's Friday, You're Eating Pizza

 

Nobody knows exactly when, why or how it started, but pizza Friday is one of NEPA’s most enduring family traditions.

In today’s fast-paced, ever-changing world it’s easy to lose track of important family traditions. Northeastern Pennsylvania is steeped in history, long-standing customs and cultural institutions that span generations. One popular practice in particular is kept alive every week by hungry families, co-workers, classmates and old friends. We’re talking about Pizza Friday.

Sure, everywhere you go, people enjoy pizza on Friday, but in NEPA it seems to have taken on ritualistic qualities. We have an abnormally high concentration of people who wait all week for that sweet pizza release. When Friday comes, we head out to our favorite neighborhood pizza spot. Occasionally, we order it from work and stop to pick it up on the way home. Some even stock up on supplies in advance and, on Friday, turn their kitchens into the messiest homemade pizza joint around.

What is it exactly that makes this weekly tradition so pervasive and unique? NEPA Pizza Review went directly to social media in search of your opinions and possible explanations.

 

 

In NEPA, it’s like pizza and Friday were simply made for each other.

Of the more than one hundred people polled, respondents almost unanimously noted that pizza Friday was a tradition that started when they were children. Many also stated that it was passed down from their parents, grandparents, and guardians. When asked about where the tradition came from, no single person could quite pinpoint the source. Possible explanations included: religious custom, post Friday night football game dinner, a payday treat, celebrating the end of a long school/work week, an office/workplace get together or reward, and a weekly date night.

I even encountered a local mom who told me about her son’s weekly pizza rivalry with his friend. It involved slice for slice pizza eating contests. They kept track of weekly wins and even maintained a long-running overall score.

While it seems that just about any reason is a great reason to feast on pizza, there is no singular indication as to why it’s so important that we do it on Friday.

 

 

Ask the experts — the proof is in the pizza.

Mike Perhach, owner of Pizza L’Oven in Exeter, is so busy on Fridays that he opens a second kitchen just to keep up with demand. His team starts making the pizza dough at 7 a.m. on Fridays. And they continue making dough until just before the usual dinner rush.

Mike doesn’t mind these fast-paced Friday nights. He cherishes the hundreds of interactions with new and returning customers. His restaurant has been open since 1975. He often sees first, second and even third generation customers on Friday nights. For him, Friday nights are like little, weekly family reunions.

Rosario Bevilacqua, owner of Rosario’s Pizzeria in Clarks Summit, makes specific adjustments for the typical Friday surge. He starts with doubling up on staff. As for the tactical approach, he adopts a “stations” setup. Each staff member is assigned a specific task. Some only take orders, while others are in charge of deliveries or watching the ovens. And the four expert pizza makers launch one pizza after another into the oven. All of this takes place in a kitchen that is several degrees hotter than normal since the ovens must operate at higher temperatures to keep up with such a huge demand.

 

Self-proclaimed NEPA pizza expert, John Rusak

 

Locals just can’t shake that NEPA Pizza Friday tradition.

John Rusak, a NEPA native and pizza Friday enthusiast has been eating pizza his entire life. He got serious about traveling to new pizzerias every week and documenting his pizza adventures on social media after retirement. John was inspired by the Food Network’s hit Show, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and his wife’s passion for history. Today, John and his wife venture out to pizzerias in NEPA and beyond every Friday.

“No matter where we are on Friday, we find a pizza shop – except in the Midwest,” John jokes. John also notes that, for him, pizza Friday started as a Lenten tradition back in 2014. He also notes that once Lent concluded, he just couldn’t give up his new Friday tradition.

In five years, John has visited 273 different pizzerias and counting. He even keeps a meticulous list of every pizzeria, the date, and location. He proudly admits that the only pizza he’s eaten more than once in that span of time is the legendary Angelo’s Pizza in Wilkes-Barre. While he does concede that it’s his children who insist on Angelo’s every time they visit, he still considers it his all-time favorite.

 

South Floridian and NEPA native, Jeff Doeringer enjoys Pizza Fridays at home with his family.

 

Pizza Friday is a tradition that travels.

Jeff Doeringer, a NEPA transplant now residing in Florida, has been enjoying pizza Friday for as long as he can remember. Jeff grew up celebrating the end of every week with pizza from places like Dino and Francesco’s, Colarusso’s Cafe, and Pompei’s Pizza. No matter where he’s lived – whether it was Ohio, Oregon or Florida, he’s carried that old NEPA tradition with him.

For Jeff, his wife, Ashley and their two children, pizza Friday is a big part of the weekly routine. And now, as the kids have gotten older, they’ve begun opting for homemade pizza. “It’s something the kids look forward to every Friday,” he explains. “It has even helped our picky eater to be more open to various additions like bell pepper, mushroom, and tomato.”

When it comes to gathering his family and celebrating this long-standing culinary tradition, Jeff is eternally grateful to his NEPA roots. “It has been great to bring a little piece of NEPA to my family, even all the way down here in South Florida.”

As far as he can tell, outside of NEPA, pizza Friday is not quite as prevalent as one would imagine. Part of that, Jeff proposes, might have something to do with access and quality. “I’ve always noticed it’s harder to find the pizza that I grew up with no matter if I lived in Ohio, Oregon or Florida,” he exclaims. “It’s always been a challenge to find pizza that would remind me of NEPA.”

 

 

Pizza brings people together.

Maybe it’s just us. Perhaps, here in NEPA, somewhere along the vein of time that circulates those blood connections to our collective history, we all settled on one simple truth — Pizza is the ultimate reward. Decades ago, a good life in NEPA was hard fought and hardly won without sacrifice. And though time and technology has spared so many of us such hardships, we’ve continued a tradition that honors an honest, good effort with a full belly. Whether we were sulking after a tough loss, or celebrating a big win, seeking psychological recompense from a draining week of work, or re-creating long-cherished memories with friends and family, pizza has always been there. And, for some inexplicable reason, it was a Friday.

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