Canadian Pizza Magazine

Three pizzerias give back to their communities

Colleen Cross   

Features Profiles annex Domino's fratelli village pizza rocky mountain flatbread rocky mountain pizza

The most successful small businesses share an important quality: they make themselves part of their communities. Entrepreneur magazine lists getting involved among its top 25 common characteristics of successful businesses and Forbes says those who succeed long term are often motivated not by profit but by being able to work where they live.

That’s good news for pizzerias across Canada, who do this so well. If you want to be more involved in your neighbourhood, city or region, take a look at what these three inspiring and creative pizzerias have rolled up their sleeves and done for theirs.

Ken Hoose and staff at his Domino’s franchise in St. Thomas, Ont., had what you might call an extraordinary Monday on May 29.

The team worked a long, busy day dishing out pizzas to please customers and to help out a co-worker diagnosed with cancer.


Jesse Baughman, 16, who started work at the store late in 2016 was already considered part of the Domino’s family as his older sister, Kaitlin, worked at the store too. After Baughman got the difficult diagnosis and was recovering from chemotherapy treatments, Hoose visited him in hospital and reassured the young worker his job would be waiting for him when he got back on his feet.

Hoose, who bought the franchise three years ago, hatched the idea of selling pins at $5 each to raise money. He took them to an industry awards banquet where he handily raised $3,000. “That speaks to the character of this industry,” he says.

The idea morphed into donating 100 per cent of sales to help support Baughman’s family with expenses arising from his treatment. “We’re at a point in our lives where we’re able to donate to others and still be OK,” he says.

When he told the team about the plan, interest snowballed, he says. “The team wanted to help.”

He let his franchise operator consultant at Domino’s know what he was planning about a month in advance and the preparation was done in about three weeks. It was tricky because some tasks, by their nature, couldn’t be done ahead of time, he says. His consultant passed the time, place and other details along the pipeline. Domino’s Canada head office donated funds and helped get the word out. At least a dozen area and national businesses pitched in as well.

Hoose says store manager Shelby Stewart did a lot of the nuts-and-bolts planning, using strategic Facebook posts to share a promotional flyer and topping their boxes with a printed version of the same flyer.

Local media got wind of the cause and came out the Tuesday before. In the end, the post was shared more than 800 times and viewed 24,000 times, Hoose says.

“Sales were relatively slow on the Friday before because people anticipated eating out the following Monday,” he says.

Early in the morning on the big day, Hoose learned from manager Stewart that they had $3,000 in advance orders. “That’s when I thought, OK, it’s going to be that kind of a day,” he says with a laugh.

They had people from surrounding towns such as Aylmer and Port Stanley and from nearby London.

Everyone agreed it was a great cause; it also was a long day. They had a lull from about 2:15 to 2:45, Hoose says, but knowing that orders would flood in beginning at 3 o’clock, he told his team to take a break, get something to eat and have a drink. Staff worked in staggered shifts from 9:30 a.m. to midnight, many of them pulling longer-than-normal stints. Teenaged staff worked from 3:30 to 11:30. “We really appreciated their parents letting their kids work extra hours,” he says.

A surprise visit from Baughman did a lot to energize the team. “When they saw it was Jesse, everyone started clapping,” Hoose says. “It brought them together.”

Everyone was getting caught up in the momentum of what they were doing. Perhaps most touching, he says, was the effort put forth by drivers, who delivered pizzas for the full shift in order to “provide some continuity” to the day. “After they were paid, a couple of them gave their wages right back. They didn’t have to do that,” he says.

The store raised $1,000 in tips and cash donations alone. But it is the numbers – 100 per cent donated, 1,450 pies, $26,000 raised – that make this fundraiser stand out and show it was able to mobilize a community.

“It was a pretty inspiring day,” Hoose says. “That’s what draws customers to it. People want to be a part of it. And it was a learning experience for those who hadn’t done it before.”

An unexpected byproduct of the day was the community’s awareness of the business. A Facebook post leading up to the day received 58,000 views. “If they didn’t know about Domino’s before that day, now they do,” he says.

In a show of support at another level, Hoose says he and other franchisees in the area help each other out when needed. He says he has arranged to help out at an event in Simcoe, an hour’s drive east, to raise funds for a little girl battling leukemia. The manager was unable to be there due to a death in the family. “All the franchisees in the area have such close relationships,” he says.

Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. is playing a long game of community and environmental involvement.

The restaurant and its Rocky Mountain Flatbread Education Society support many charitable efforts in relation to building sustainable food systems. Two of those are the EarthBites and an urban garden.

“We created, facilitate and fund a program called EarthBites,” wrote Suzanne Fielden to Canadian Pizza in her entry to the Saputo Foodservice Pizza With Purpose contest in 2016. Fielden and husband Domenic own the very green business with three locations in Vancouver, one in Banff, Alta., and one in nearby Canmore, Alta. “EarthBites teaches thousands of students how to grow their own food and create healthy snacks – including pizzas – in Vancouver schools,” she explained.   

“Our society also funds innovative programs like Urban Stream, which is a micro farm in our Kitsilano car park,” Fielden tells in an interview with us. “There we compost all of our food on site and grow our own arugula and herbs, which we use to top our pastas and pizzas.”

The EarthBites program is currently delivered in five Vancouver schools, with one-off workshops happening in spring and summer when there is demand. Fielden spends hours organizing a team of nutritionists, urban gardeners and foragers to teach kids from kindergarten to Grade 7 how to grow and prepare healthy food. They teach the program once a week all year long through units like “Preserving the Harvest” and “Summer Planting.” Some of the kids stay involved through the summer.

With the Parent Action Committee paying for it or subsidizing it heavily, it’s a self-sustaining model, Fielden says. She applies for a grant as well. “It allows for transformation in schools. Kids that may never eat greens will scarf down kale and radishes. It’s an amazing program.” At a time when 75 per cent of kids are malnourished – either not eating enough or eating too many ready-made foods – the program is well received, she adds.

They do no advertising but rely on word of mouth to raise awareness of the program.

Through its Canmore location, Rocky Mountain also fund and conduct two school rooftop gardens where students can participate in a productive urban farm that thrives all year, including in the summer months when school is out. “Students and teachers have the support of urban farmer mentors to guide them through the world of plants and support the integration of gardens and food into curriculum,” Fielden says. The garden supplies the restaurant.

The community seems to like what they are doing. “Teachers are
super-grateful because they haven’t got the time or the skills,” she says. “Parents are grateful – their kids are eating their veggies and planting gardens at home!”

It’s a nice leveller for students who may feel left out of activities for various reasons, for example, students whose first language isn’t English and those with special needs, she adds.

The programs took their current form about a decade ago when the company opened as Rocky Mountain Pizza with the goal of operating under the responsible entrepreneurship model that promotes the idea of youth as leaders of tomorrow. “It’s the idea that businesses are not there just to make money,” Fielden explains. “One of our business goals is to keep as small a footprint as possible while still staying in business.”

She organizes the pieces in what she calls “a big jigsaw puzzle” to make sure the key stakeholders know where they are supposed to be and when. Staff lead a team of six in running the programs.

They have a public market three times a year where they sell fresh produce they grow at a micro farm in Vancouver behind the Kitsilano location where they compost all greens on site using an Urban Stream composting unit with the help of worm castings. In four beds they grow fresh micro greens, oregano, mustard seed, rocket, arugula, basil, sage and other delicacies. Fielden calls herself “the major tender” of the garden, which is supported by their education society and a small farmer’s grant.

Guests and media sometimes ask for a tour and staff see that it’s much more than a restaurant, she says, adding that they have “zero turnover” among their chefs and most full-time employees.

Rocky Mountain also buys from local farmers whenever possible. The restaurant likes to showcase and support them by buying what they have on hand then supplementing from other suppliers if necessary.

In addition to their emphasis on giving back to the Earth, every month the business lends out its space to a community fundraising group and donates 10 per cent of its sales to the event.

Finally, they connect more intimately with customers by holding make-your-own-pizza events Sundays and Mondays from 5 to 7 p.m. Tables are set up and front-of-house staff known as “pizza-making leaders” take turns guiding parents and tots through topping their own pizzas. These events also are popular for birthday parties and corporate teambuilding events. “Adults are crazy” when it comes to these evenings, she says with a laugh.

Fratelli Village Pizzeria, a small, full-service pizzeria in Scarborough, Ont., that specializes in wood-fired pizza, has managed to become part of its neighbourhood through a strategy of assisting and supporting those in need.

The brothers sponsor hockey teams and gift certificates for worthy causes. They also support silent auctions, raffles and special community events. “They do not say no to anyone who asks for a donation for any kind of fundraising,” the entry said. They support silent auctions, raffles, special community events. The donation amounts, which vary and may also be cash donations where appropriate, amount to thousands of dollars every year.

But community involvement doesn’t always involve big cash donations, points out Denise Pocchi, who nominated the pizzeria run by her husband Salvatore (Sal) Pocchi and his brother Matteo since 2005.

There is a long list of causes, including Movember, which each year sees Sal and Matteo not only grow moustaches but also ask for customer donations to help raise funds for an awareness of men’s health issues. The brothers match all funds raised.

“The number 1 thing I love to do is the Christmas toy and food drive,” Sal says. For this yearly event, they set up a toy drive, contribute about $500 worth of toys to it themselves and ask their patrons to bring in more. The toys are distributed to local churches for distribution to disadvantaged children.

The simultaneous food drive goes to various recipients. In 2015, the pizzeria supported a local hockey team and donated a pick-up truck full of food for the local Holiday Food Bank Drive. The local hockey team then assisted and volunteered at the food bank to help sort the food items.

The donations come in and pile up high, threatening to take over the bar, Sal says with a laugh. The Pocchis and friend Al Reeves gather up the donations and take them to high school and public schools they work with for distribution. The schools sponsor a couple of families, Sal says. Last year they sponsored two immigrating families. Sometimes customers come to them with requests for families in need and they are happy to help, leaving it to the schools to decide who is in need. “I work one on one with the teachers,” he says.

Highland Creek is a close-knit community, where neighbouring stores get in on the giving. An art store next door and the music store across the street, take donations on behalf of the store, direct customers to the pizzeria to donate and generally spread the word.

The pizzeria has been taking part in the Highland Creek Heritage Festival in June for many years by hosting a community appreciation barbecue. For one day, streets are closed to allow make room for a children’s midway, corn maze, craft booths, live music and other entertainments. Until recently, they would have the barbecue out and be serving hotdogs and sausages to the neighbourhood festival-goers. Two years ago, they started providing pizza to the hungry visitors.

“It’s a small way to say thank you to the neighbourhood, ” Sal says.

A few years ago the  same neighbourhood gave a rousing show of support when a fire destroyed the restaurant on the evening of Mother’s Day of 2012. Many Highland Creek neighbours, friends and customers came to the brothers’ side to help clean up the restaurant site.

They held a barbecue with the help of the local music store and raised more than $5,000 for them, a gesture that touched the brothers deeply.

“We are very fortunate and very blessed,” Sal says.

“You know, all our staff came back as well,” he adds. “Some had other jobs and they left them and came back. They are a great part of my family.”

After many hurdles, the restaurant was up and running again by March 2013, “stronger than ever,” as Sal puts it.

The memory of that neighbourhood support motivates them to keep on giving time, attention and money to worthy causes whenever they can.

It’s inspiring proof that what goes around comes around.

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