Customers rush to local restaurants for Thanksgiving Eve pizzas

Local News

(WKBN) – The day before Thanksgiving is traditionally one of the busiest days at a pizza shop, which is why at dinner time tonight, we visited two of the area’s best-known pizza shops. We wanted to see how busy they were and how they’ve survived the pandemic. Both were busy Wednesday night but for one, that hasn’t been the case for the past 20 months.

The parking lot outside The Elmton in Struthers was virtually empty Wednesday night but the carry-out entrance and kitchen were busy. The wait for a pizza was, at one point, an hour.

“Oh yeah, the night before Thanksgiving, yeah,” said Jack Walters, owner of The Elmton.

Walters knew Wednesday night would be busy, but the same can’t be said about business since the pandemic started.

“I’m down 50 percent in sales from where I was before the pandemic. I can’t get help. I’m down to 15 employees from 34 employees,” he said.

At the same time, 25 miles north, in the pizza kitchen of Sunrise Inn in Warren, the line of orders on clothespins was an hour and a half wait.

“Karen, my wife, has been in the kitchen cooking and we don’t want anything to do with turkey tonight so we thought we’d get some pizza,” said customer Eric Schaffert, of Boardman.

“You always anticipate a busy day, that’s the best part about it,” said Thomas Adair, general manager of Sunrise Inn.

Adair didn’t have a percentage increase but said business at Sunrise Inn since the start of the pandemic has been up.

“So they’re saying, ‘Let’s get a few Sunrise pizzas’ — three, four, five and all of a sudden you have hundreds of pizzas on your line and it’s definitely stayed that pattern across the course of COVID,” Adair said.

Sunrise also has not had any trouble with staffing.

“Luckily, we had a great crew that stayed on with us from the beginning until now,” Adair said.

But at The Elmton, the dining area has been closed since the start of COVID-19 because Walters can’t find workers. He has advertised everywhere, raised wages and increased benefits, but it’s not enough.

“My biggest issue is finding experienced cooks to get on the line. Servers don’t seem to be a problem, I could probably get servers. But I can’t have the front open if I can’t get out of the kitchen,” Walters said.

Back at Sunrise Inn, the pizza makers talked about their busiest days of the year. They said number one, by far, is Super Bowl Sunday, number two is Christmas Eve and then tied for third is New Year’s Eve and the day before Thanksgiving.

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