“As we move forward in reopening, I think it is important for people to understand the changes and culture shock some restaurants are faced with.”
Friends and families have faced off over slices for years; such competitions are fixtures on national television shows, and are forever embedded in the fabric of food culture. With that as a background, consider Boston Pizza Wars, a Facebook group with almost 15,000 members fixing for the best regional pies.
Following a hard few months of navigating stay-at-home orders and restaurant closings, one might say that pizza has helped many people keep their sanity. For the BPW family, it’s all been about rallying around the greater good and helping those in need. I asked BPW founder Steve Damato about the project and success thus far.
What’s the basis of the group?
I decided to create BPW in November of 2019. My original goal was to promote philanthropy and charity-type work, to provide a place for laughs, camaraderie, small business [support], and generally fun. I wanted to create something great. Something unlike anything else out there. … I settled on pizza because everyone likes pizza. … I thought it would be among great common interests that would bring people of all walks of life together.
BPW took off like wildfire and exploded with membership. In addition to these factors, I believe it was because of our culture of entertainment/comedy-style drama within the group. In our early months, members such as Marc Russo, Mike Meehan, Michele Giso, Stahi Maviridas, and Johnny D’Agostino provided a lot of content that helped take it to the next level. We struggled to find an identity and happy medium for a couple months with respect to our level of Masshole. It took a lot of work by my wife and I to fine tune what we would allow to create an edgy environment that didn’t cross the line.
Our team of admins and mods were instrumental in fine tuning the content moderation. Together we finally got it right. We are unique with respect to how pizza shop owners and patrons interact directly on our forum. We host a variety of contests, events, and charity missions. We’ve held fundraisers for incredible organizations such as the Family Reach Foundation and the One Mission Buzz Off for Kids with Cancer. We raised collaboratively over $3,500 for those organizations.
During the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, we were able to establish a relief fund and help those who lost their jobs by providing groceries and meals to Massachusetts residents. Most recently, we were devastated by the passing of a beloved member, so collectively the group came together and raised almost $20,000 for the family in two days, paying for the funeral in its entirety. It was our mutual love for pizza that helped us accomplish this. The members of BPW are the real deal and are what is good in the world.
The economy is opening up and restaurants are able to do outdoor (and even indoor) dining. What adjustments do you see pizzerias making that others should take note of?
COVID-19 has certainly changed things for pizzerias. They’ve had to reimagine how they do business. Some nearly losing their businesses. I personally was in contact with many owners throughout the pandemic to strategize ways BPW could help them stay afloat and reinvent. BPW has offered various types of assistance to pizzerias such as advertisement, video commercials within the group, pop-up lunches, fair reviews, etc.
As a group, we’ve done an excellent job working with and supporting pizzerias throughout this mess. As we move forward in reopening, I think it is important for people to understand the changes and culture shock some restaurants are faced with. Service may be slower due to staffing, certain ingredients may be unavailable, or too expensive. Certain menu items may be suspended, outdoor seating may be limited, etc. The near future is going to require patience and understanding from the consumer. For the next few months, I think we should focus on supporting our favorite spots and expect a gradual return of the things we knew and loved. After all, they need us, and we need them.
What ways has BPW benefited local businesses and the community?
We generate a lot of foot traffic through the groups posts and take pride in being able to generate a real buzz for some of these businesses. We are actually visiting these places multiple times a week, eating out and spending our own hard-earned money. We are a collection of the good people of almost every walk of life. Whether it be ethnicity, occupational group, religion, social status, etc.
I hope BPW serves as an example that it is entirely possible to get through these divisive times. We spoke briefly with Stathi Mavridis of Kostas Pizza and Seafood in Needham, Massachusetts about his experience in the group and he stated, “I’ve sold probably 50 margharita pizzas recently, specifically because of the group. I’m sure a lot of foot traffic floats in and because of all the tough critics in Boston Pizza Wars I’ve really stepped up my pizza game. I have dedicated my time into research (going to other places to try their pizza, studying ingredients, equipment, and ovens) and have learned a lot about the overall product quality standards in our industry.”
I’m sure if an establishment isn’t up to the BPW standard that could be bad for business, no?
Of course, it could be bad for business if an establishment isn’t up to any critical reviewer’s standard. A part of BPW’s purpose is to help people find good pizza. BPW is a platform for people to share their personal experiences. Similar to other groups and platforms put there. I believe all establishments should be maintaining a minimum set of standards with respect to cleanliness, courtesy, and service. These things should be expected to be good already. However, taste in food is subjective. And I encourage people to make their own decisions and try something for themselves. And not to take reviews as a complete deciding factor. I personally do not take another person’s review as my only reason to patronize or not to patronize a shop. People should also be aware of the inherent impact their comments and posts could have in any social media forum. Make responsible, reasonable decisions on what they put out there, and not post in anger. I personally think it’s a great idea to wait a day to post a review of a bad experience to see if you feel the same way. Your thought process could be much different the next day and could save a negative review from getting out there that you really didn’t feel that strongly about. Just remember once you post something on social media, it’s out there forever.
Do you think medicated or “infused” pizza will be a thing within dispensaries in Massachusetts?
I don’t have a very strong knowledge of the “medicated” or “infused” marijuana/ food industry. What I will say is that it’s clear it’s here to stay and well accepted. With the various types of infused foods out there, it’s inevitable that pizza joins the show. I do think there is a market, and like anything else that folks can turn a profit on, it will be explored. I certainly support it as a legal, recreational, and medicinal new way to enjoy pizza. If it makes people happy, go nuts.