RICHMOND, Va. -- Pizza means family and happiness for Joe Conigliaro.
Conigliaro is the owner of Sergio’s Pizza & Craft Beer in Midlothian.
The nearly 30-year-old family business has been on solid footing during the pandemic, he said, because of adapting quickly and pre-planning financially.
On National Pizza Day Tuesday, Conigliaro decided to help those in need as a way of thanking those who kept his business going.
“We have been blessed. We are doing pretty good, we’re paying the bills, we’re making money, we’re not having to fire people. We sometimes forget that people don’t have money to eat, they might go hungry, they might not have a place to sleep.” Conigliaro said.
Sergio’s joined hundreds of pizzerias nationwide in donating pies as a part of the “Slice Out Hunger” campaign.
They sent 20 pizzas to a church in South Richmond, where the organization Richmond Friends of the Homeless distributes free lunches and items to dozens of people who are unsheltered.
“This is something that wasn’t in our budget, so this will be a real treat. Who doesn’t love pizza!?” Shawnee Hansen, who started Richmond Friends of the Homeless, said.
“It makes me feel really excited that we can do that and give them a warm meal we can put in their bellies,” Jessica Conigliaro, Joe’s daughter who also works for Sergio’s, said.
“What we’re doing in the grand scheme of things is kind of small,” Joe said. “It’s a bunch of us, a big family like we talked about earlier, pizzaiolos across the whole country trying to slice out hunger, one piece at a time.”
The pizza business was well-suited for the delivery and take-out dominant restaurant model the pandemic necessitated. Just before restaurants were forced to close their doors in March 2020, Sergios had completed another expansion of their space at the Merchant Square shopping center.
“Before the pandemic, we were 70% dine-in and 30% takeout,” Joe said. “We ended up having to adapt. People did not want to come out and eat anymore, even though you could people a few people in. We end up switching it. We’re 30% dine-in and 70% take out.”
“It was scary in the beginning to think we could lose all of this,” Jessica said.
Loyal customers bought gift cards for later use and others were generous with tips, which Conigliaro said contributed to Sergio’s success during the pandemic.
Joe called Tuesday donation a small act, but he also saw firsthand during the early parts of the pandemic that small acts add up.
“Everything helps, if we treat this as we’re one big family and we’re trying to help each other out, we’ll make it to the other side. That’s everybody’s goal right now,” Joe said.
Tuesday's donation was completely on Sergio’s, but Conigliaro said their customers were asking to contribute, so they are planning future donation events. In the meantime, he suggested donating time or money to organizations like Richmond Friends of the Homeless.