In the best of times and the worst of times, pizza prevails.
That doughy disc drenched in tomato sauce under a warm cheese blanket and sundry toppings is an explicit promise of culinary relief, especially when supermarket shelves are occasionally empty.
With the coronavirus pandemic on a tear through the city and across the world, many businesses have temporarily shuttered whereas others have seen this as a boom time. Pizza joints have risen to the occasion, and some pizzaiolos have seen their craft as a way to do more than just deliver some ’za.
Jody DePasquale, manager of Addeo’s Riverdale Pizza, has found himself doing things he’s never done before in his 30-year career perfecting pies. In the past month or so since the city shut down, DePasquale has walked dogs for customers, picked up groceries, and even ventured to the bank to withdraw some cash for Josephine Pinto, an 85-year-old woman who was unable to go outside.
“It was a little shocking,” DePasquale said of Pinto’s request. “When she asked that, I didn’t even hesitate.”
It was a godsend for Pinto who hasn’t been able to leave her home for months, and the stay-at-home order has meant that she hasn’t been able to see any of her family members.
“He’s like my adopted son,” Pinto said of DePasquale. “He’s there for me. It’s really wonderful.”
Such good deeds are par for the course now for the team at Addeo’s who had to adapt quickly to the challenge the pandemic continues to pose. While Addeo’s has endured the crisis thus far from its 5654 Riverdale Ave., location, the elimination of dining in has impacted the business to the extent employees there have had to work reduced hours.
“We’re not going to fire people,” DePasquale said. “We’re all going to take less hours to make sure everybody has a job.”
It was a difficult, yet necessary, decision to shore up the financial shortfall while mitigating the impact on workers’ lives as much as possible, although it’s one change in a sea of changes to which the Addeo’s crew has had to adapt. Social distancing guidelines have altered the very nature of picking up food in a variety of ways.
“None of my credit receipts get signed anymore,” said Laurence Addeo, the owner of his eponymous eatery.
The pandemic also has forced a new kind of muscle memory leading to what can feel like stilted interactions. Friendly transactions with regulars are no longer accompanied by a handshake or other chummy embrace. The workers at Addeo’s, like at other eateries, have worked to minimize contact, if not eliminate it entirely.
“In the store, everyone’s scattered,” Addeo said. “It’s not as personable as it used to be.”
Yet, it’s the willingness of his staff to go beyond the job they were hired for that keeps Addeo inspired, and to that end, he’s tried to do what he can to make life easier for them.
“I closed a day just to give them a break,” the owner said.
Despite social distancing, the pandemic has fostered a deeper sense of community, and DePasquale is encouraged by what he sees both in and around Addeo’s. He has a sense that his work, and that of his team, is a piece of the pie. And while it may not cure the disease, it can certainly help those in hospitals who are working tirelessly to care for patients.
DePasquale and Addeo have set aside a certain number of pies on any given week to send to hospitals in the borough, including Lincoln Hospital in Mott Haven.
“Jody was one of the first people to reach out to me and my team in the first few weeks of the corona(virus) pandemic,” said Dr. Maksim Shmargun, who works in an intensive care unit at the East 149th Street hospital. “While we as medical professionals are used to working long hours, the support from Jody, the Addeo’s family and our communities have been essential in keeping us going.”
The lifespan of a slice of pizza is short. But that first bite, with its mélange of flavors and textures, can — if only for a moment — cause the stress of one’s life to melt away.
In the end, pandemic or not, pizza always prevails.