Legion Pizzeria, a restaurant specializing in Roman-style pizza, had only been opened in Kennesaw for a few months when Georgia went on lockdown for fear of COVID-19.
“The first thing that crossed our mind when this happened was ‘what are we going to do?’ And we started thinking about all the different assets that our business has,” owner and founder David DeSantis said “At Legion Pizzeria, the most important asset that I have are the people that work here. I wanted to make sure that our four employees had a place to come to and a way to earn a living and not have to go on unemployment.”
Like many other small business owners, he said he applied for a government loan to keep everyone on payroll.
“Unfortunately for us, we’re with a larger bank, and the stories that have gone through the internet unfortunately are true. The larger banks focused on their larger clients,” DeSantis said. “We were seeking a meager $14,000 to help us keep people working, keep the facility going, and not go out of business. And we were rejected.”
So how was he able to keep everyone employed?
“We did it on our own dime. Last month, my partner and I, we spent almost $2,400 out of our own pockets to pay these people,” DeSantis said. “What I figure is, on the other side of this thing, the people that did things the right way, hopefully some good karma is going to come back to them.”
Even with the restaurant doors locked week-after-week, DeSantis and his team made pizzas, selling them to community members and donating many of them to those in need. Earlier this week, DeSantis said they donated pizzas and salads to the Smyrna Police Department to help them cope with the loss of an officer. Through all of it, he said, his team of five has grown closer.
“The thing that this experience has done for me and the four employees that I have, is it's turned us from more of an employee-worker relationship to… we're a family in here now,” DeSantis said. “These are the only four people that I've pretty much had any human contact with, other than on the telephone, for how many weeks now? A month-and-a-half? We eat together on Sundays when we're closed. I bring in the employees and we have steaks, and we try to do things to make sure that we stay sane, and we're here for each other. In the end, as hard as it's been, there's still a silver lining to every story.”
For DeSantis, there are lots of silver linings with the recent stay-at-home order, including more time to expand his menu.
“One of the things that I've taken advantage of from a time standpoint with this business is ‘how can I focus internally on improving this place?’ One of the things people are asking for is gluten free,” he said. “In this area, in my opinion, everybody is selling frozen gluten-free crusts that are reheated. And I'm just not that guy. So I brought a mix in from Italy. It's an organic gluten-free mix, and I started working with it. I now make a gluten-free pizza that's thick, super crispy, and light like air.”
Even though the stay-at-home order has been lifted in Georgia, DeSantis said he has yet to fully reopen. But he is offering curbside pickup and delivery.
“It's a community restaurant,” DeSantis said. “It's not just mine, so it wasn't my decision to make by myself. I went to social media and put the post up and said ‘we will open the doors if you guys want us to. We will stay closed if you guys want us to.’ We will do things the way that the community wants to do business with us, and majority of people really wanted us to continue to try and stay safe.”
He said he will reevaluate the situation on a weekly basis and do whatever the community thinks is best. In the meantime, picnic tables line the front sidewalk of the restaurant for anyone wanting to dine outside, and DeSantis will likely be there to greet you whether you’re taking food to-go, or sticking around to eat.
“I hope we all learned some lessons going forward,” he said. “I'm just a simple pizza man and I'm not the person to be out there telling people what those lessons are that should be learned. But the big lesson that I think I am qualified to say that people should learn from this is it’s okay to be a human being. It's okay to tell people that you love them and tell people that you care. We need to get more of that back into society going forward.”
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