Buffalo pizzerias dig out, then dig in to stay open amid snowstorm

March 20, 2002

So you think delivering pizza's tough where you are?

Try Buffalo, New York -- where six feet of lake-effect snow has fallen since Monday.

According to the National Weather Service, between 5 a.m. Monday and 5 a.m. Friday, 68.5 inches of snow has blanketed the area. From Sunday morning to Monday morning alone, a near-record 33.6 inches fell on the city, which rests on the east bank of Lake Erie.

"The city's in a state of emergency," said Carla Todaro Pantano, partner in La Nova Pizzeria. "I don't know how much snow we got last night, but we're supposed to get one to two feet today."

Pantano, who co-founded the La Nova Wings company, with her brother Joey Todaro, praised the 20 employees -- half the usual number needed for a Friday -- who'd made it to work this morning. Asked why she didn't number herself among the snowbound, Pantano said she knew customers would be calling.

"We have a lot of people walking to our shop who can't get to the supermarkets," she said. "The whole city is shut down, so we knew we needed to be here."

This snowstorm is but the latest in a growing string of weather oddities experienced in Buffalo this year. November was atypically snow-free, and in early December, temperatures soared into the 60s.

The city's 1 million residents are no strangers to lake-effect snow squalls, which dump about 95 inches of the white stuff there each year. But this storm clearly has the town in its grips.

Calls to nearly a dozen other Buffalo pizzerias yielded either non-answers or operators rushing to prepare for the day. At Nero's Pizza, a man who only identified himself as the owner said, "I wish I had time to talk to you, but I had to dig myself out of my home and then into the store. I've got to go."

At Bocce Club Pizza, which was closed for business on Thursday, a worker identified himself only as Bill, and said he'd fielded calls all morning from employees checking in.

"They keep wondering if we're going to be open, and all I keep telling them is that I've not heard from the owner, either, so I don't know," Bill said. "All I know is there's a big truck here out back delivering a load of food. I think all we can do is try to get ready for the weekend."

La Nova, a two-store company, whose sales average $160,000 a week, expects to do only 60 percent of its usual Friday business, said Pantano. Calls for delivery, she said, are as high as usual.

"I have a couple trucks out today with four wheel drive, but we can only take pizzas to certain sites," said Pantano. "We can get to main roads, and from there the people are meeting us to pick up their food."

Delivery at Bocce, on the other hand, isn't going as smoothly.

"We've got a company van for that, but we're having a lot of trouble with it right now," said Bill.

Pantano said La Nova was lucky to have received a large produce order before the worst of the storm hit, and that supplies should last through the weekend. The bakery that produces the buns for its submarine sandwiches, however, was shut down for the day, leaving her wondering when they'll run out.

"If that happens, we'll make our own," Pantano said. "We're not taking anything off the menu."

Topics: Independent Operation

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