In a fast-paced world of instant gratification and corporate
domination, Dimitri Neonakis’ successful throw-back to the
family-oriented pizza business demonstrates that the old charm of the
ma and pa pizza store is alive and well.
In a fast-paced world of instant gratification and corporate domination, Dimitri Neonakis’ successful throw-back to the family-oriented pizza business demonstrates that the old charm of the ma and pa pizza store is alive and well.
Since July 1991, Alexandra’s Pizza at 1263 Queen Street in Halifax, has stood as the local ruler of pizza and poutine. With an increasing and loyal customer base demanding their signature Greek pizza and multiple poutine recipes, Neonakis franchised Alexandra’s five additional locations in the Halifax region with two more in the works.
Neonakis says his career path was only natural. “I’ve been in the food business since I was 12 years old on the island of Crete, where I grew up. It’s almost like it’s embedded in my DNA.” In 1984 he moved to Canada with ambitions of opening his own pizza parlour, bringing with him knowledge, experience and most importantly a clear vision of how a pizza business should be run.
“There is something romantic about a ma and pa pizza store. We don’t want to lose that romanticism.”
A large part of success in the service industry comes from customer loyalty. For Alexandra’s, loyalty comes from the establishment’s reputation as a friendly, comfortable, dependable pizza place. “We want it to be a neighbourhood pizza store. There is one name and one phone number for all our locations.”
The chain garners its name from Neonakis’ daughter and the store’s logo also bears the image of a bright-faced six year-old Alexandra. While much of the business is delivery, the stores feature comfortable seating and welcoming décor for those coming in for pick up or grabbing a bite inside. The original Queen Street location also features a recently renovated patio.
What some restaurants boast in atmosphere, they lack in taste. Neonakis notes: “Nothing that comes out of a can will ever taste as good as if I make it from scratch…our stores must buy fresh vegetables and fresh meat daily. We don’t use any frozen food in our stores.”
The fresh ingredients are immediately evident when taking a bite into one of three pizza slices offered at the store. Made fresh onsite, the sauce serves as a unique and delicious element of the pizza that makes customers come back. All locations offer free delivery from 11:00 a.m. onwards. The Queen Street location caters to the cravings of Halifax’s university crowd with free delivery until 5:00 a.m. on weekends.
Introduced in 1995, Alexandra’s poutine became immensely popular, captivating Halifax food junkies and winning “countless awards from The Coast Magazine for best poutine in town.” Like a proud father protecting his baby, Neonakis guards his recipes close to his chest. Concerning the poutine, he says slyly, “It’s an old recipe from an old man who gave it to me.” He does however divulge that the gravy comes from the stalk of a turkey—“a fresh turkey bought everyday.”
While poutine and pizza remain Alexandra’s staple products, items such as donairs, subs, chicken, pitas and panzerottis can be found on the menu, as well as their popular garlic fingers, another local Halifax favourite. Prices are reasonable and there are numerous specials featuring pizza, donairs and poutines to choose from (one large five-topping pizza, two regular poutines and a two litre pop goes for $22.99 plus tax).
In a stressful period of economic hardship and uncertainty, Alexandra’s Pizza has been able to buck many trends and actually expand its operations. Neonakis identifies his food philosophy as the driving force behind growth: provide an exceptional product, have exceptional management.
“Our name is synonymous with good food,” says Neonakis. He says he knew it was time to consider expansion when he “realized that people would come from miles away to get our food, and that people were always asking about it.” Alexandra’s second location opened in Cole Harbour in 1998. Since then four more locations have opened and two more are in the works.
Like a head coach building a championship team, Neonakis points out that finding the right people to run Alexandra’s various locations is crucial. “It takes passion. You have to love what you do and do it well. If you don’t –get out.” Franchisees must be on board with his family-oriented approach in order to be considered for a store. “My main goal isn’t expansion. Maintaining the quality and success of Alexandra’s is most important to me.”
A fresh approach to the neighbourhood pizza parlour, Alexandra’s Pizza revitalizes the idea of how a ma and pa pizza shop can succeed and grow.
“We really work to go the extra mile—it ends up taking a little longer in preparation, but in the end, the work pays off.” For customers, taking a little time away from the craziness of their lives to sit down and enjoy the pizza is a tasty escape.
Andrew Silver is a Toronto-based freelance writer and former resident of Halifax.
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