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Finding purpose in pizza

Joe Leroux of Amadio’s Pizza is our 2011 Saputo Pizza with Purpose winner


People often like to say there’s a method to their madness, but we don’t always find out what that method is.

People often like to say there’s a method to their madness, but we don’t always find out what that method is. Joe Leroux of Amadio’s Pizza, winner of this year’s Pizza with Purpose award sponsored by Saputo Foodservice, gave us a candid look at the method – the solid business sense – behind all the giving. Don’t get us wrong; Leroux is a big-hearted teddy bear of a softie if ever there were one. But he knows the business sense behind his good deeds too.

20100119_47-Amadios-Pizza 
Amadio’s pies have fed many a Port Credit, Ont.,  community
event.
 

“You do what feels good and it really does feel good to give,” says Leroux. We’re sitting waterside at Snug Harbour restaurant in Port Credit, Ont., which he and Amadio’s call home. Further into our conversation, he succinctly observes: “If it’s good for the community, it’s good for Amadio’s.”

Leroux made his first pizza in his own store on July 18, 1990 in Mississauga. In 1993, he moved the pizzeria to Port Credit. In that time, he’s seen the number of independents in Port Credit dwindle from 16 to two. It’s taken perseverance and ingenuity to survive statistics like that. His current digs give him a central location in the pretty village along the shores of Lake Ontario. While Port Credit is geographically a waterfront parcel of sprawling Mississauga, the community holds its own identity.

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As many newcomers to an area find, sports are an excellent way to start making friends. Leroux used to play hockey and says he still remembers the sponsors he had. He started sponsoring a Port Credit team, but once he learned the Lorne Park neighbourhood’s home arena was nearby Cawthra, he took on their team as well. The plaqued team pictures of each year of sponsorship line the top right wall of his pizzeria’s entry way, overseeing the mix of children’s artwork, press coverage and thank-you notes below.

Leroux likes that Amadio’s gets mentioned on the team’s websites and he knows the organizations like to patronize their sponsors.

“Always a pretty good payoff but it takes a long time,” he says of giving to your community in general. “It’s like saving for retirement.”

His giving extends well beyond sports teams: these were just the initial foray. Primarily, Leroux has found a cause of his own in feeding the people helping the cause. For the past 15 years, he’s provided a pizza lunch for the Caring and Sharing program of St. Dominic Church, which provides Christmas presents and dinners for about 100 needy families. For the community event, Southside Shuffle, he donated pizzas for all the volunteers, totalling $1,000 over a three-day festival weekend. He also provided the food for the main stage where Dr. Hook was playing and walked the crowded streets handing out free slices of pizza and business cards.

“A picture doesn’t tell you how good the pizza tastes. If you’re proud of what you make you need to get the product into the people’s hands by giving away pizza for a community function,” he says. “It was cool to give it away and it doesn’t cost a lot . . . . Product is so much easier to give than cash. Product helps the cause and it helps yourself.”

The list of food donations in the last year goes on: 60 free pizzas for the Beggar’s Banquet that saw all proceeds going to SickKids Hospital, 50 pizzas to raise money for the Haiti earthquake fund at Queen of Heaven School for one of its pizza days, 42 pizzas offered at no charge for fundraising at the Mineola School Winter Carnival. The 50th anniversary of the Port Credit arena festivities and the Kenollie Fall Fair were given pizzas to sell at material cost with free labour and overhead.

And if it’s not free food, it’s silent auction gift certificates or gift certificates as door prizes for churches, schools and drop-in centres.

Leroux sees the involvement in the schools as particularly good for the business. “You get a lot of exposure from your name being mentioned there. Every little mention is a plus.”

He loves hearing kids say, “This is the pizza we get at school!” One of his staff regaled him with a particularly enjoyable tale of overhearing a small child in Wal-Mart fussing in the next isle because he didn’t want to go to McDonald’s, he wanted Amadio’s!

Leroux is in the habit of saying yes to all requests for help in the community that seem legitimate. He’s had a few scammers, mostly of the “substance dependent” type, he says, and basically they are just hungry.

“Giving a little bit allows the little guy to seem bigger,” he says. “When you’re small, you can’t start a cause of your own but you can help people with the cause they’ve started.”

When a neighbour passed on, Leroux did the catering for 70 people at the wake at no charge. If you have lost someone, as so many of us have, you know what a relief it is to have someone take care of the food and have one less thing to think about, at no expense, no less. 

Leroux says he doesn’t really compute the exact costs of all the free pizzas, but he has guidelines for himself. If it’s for a raffle or a door prize, he keeps the prize value around $50. With the food itself, the perception is higher than the actual cost to you, he notes. “It looks like you gave $100 worth of free pizza but your out of pocket costs are much lower.”

One thing Leroux mentions more than once during our harbourfront chat, was that it really does take patience. You can’t expect instant gratification from donating, other than the good feeling you get from doing it. For Amadio’s, it’s paying off now, with a record year, and growing accolades, all while the loyalty deepens.

In 2009, Amadio’s earned a platinum award for pizza in Mississauga. Then, in 2010, he received the bronze medal for pizza from the Toronto Star. This was huge media coverage, and one can’t help but think that the name he built through his repeated exposure in a little community on the outskirts helped catch the eye of the juggernaut paper.

It’s also good to remember, he says, that being a good guy in the community helps when you inevitably make mistakes. It allows more of a cushion for forgiveness. He emphasizes it’s important to put your best slice forward, so to speak, and treat the free product as a sample of your very finest. He also says you can only do what you can, and you can’t give away the farm and you can’t make everything free. But . . . “sometimes the opportunity knocks and you don’t see it. You need to ask questions when you see somebody doing good.” In the answer may lie a simple way to make a closer tie with your customers. Plus, it really does feel good. A quote widely attributed to the Persian poet Hadia Bejar sums up perfectly:

“The fragrance always stays in the hand that gives the rose.”


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