RAYMOND — Joe Morris loves everything about pizza. He loves making pizza, eating pizza, the history of pizza and talking about pizza with the many regular customers that have frequented Pizza by George over the last 20 years.
Morris grew up in the restaurant business, but wanted to be a musician. When he realized that probably would not pay the bills, he came back to what he knew.
The Massachusetts native was looking for a small, quiet community to open his business when he found Raymond.
He has also operated pizza restaurants in Londonderry, Epping and Bangor, Maine, and said preferences for pizza toppings are regional.
"Pizza is personal. Everyone's taste is different," Morris said.
The restaurant industry is a tough business, and many fail within the first year, Morris said.
"A lot of people get into it thinking it's a mom-and-pop shop and they make meatballs at home, but then they are working every day, 100 hours a week," Morris said.
Morris does not mind the hours, and even with a staff that has been with him almost as long as the restaurant has been open, he can be found in the shop each day, creating new combinations and chatting with customers.
Pizza by George does little advertising. Word-of-mouth and repeat business keeps it successful.
Morris is an Italian by birth and a baker by trade, and his wife, Sally, studied at the Culinary Institute of America. Many of the creations offered, from enormous stuffed pizza slices to the popular pizza rolls, referred to by Morris as "Italian breath mints," are their own inventions and sometimes happen by accident.
He tried offering muffins in the morning, but no one would buy them. So he used his specialty muffin pan to create "Mad Hatters" a delicious Reuben made with pastrami instead of corn beef, sauerkraut, thousand island dressing and Swiss cheese all baked into pizza dough so that it looks like a hat when it is served up on the counter.
The "End All" stuffed pizza features the end of meats that would otherwise be too small to use. The chicken caprese is a light, Sicilian crust piled with chicken, onions, fresh tomatoes and drizzled in a balsamic glaze. Spinach pie is a big seller and won an award in Atlantic City for being a delicious "heart smart" pizza.
It was important to Morris that customers could see the behind-the-scenes operations of how their products are made, and the wide, open counter allows customers to view the day's bounty up close.
"You eat with your eyes. People come in thinking they are going to get one thing and then walk the counter and are looking. It is a visual thing," Morris said.
With this model, food can only stay out for so long, and it usually sells. Any leftovers are donated to area churches and youth groups.
Morris has helped build his business through these kind of community connections as well — sponsoring youth sports teams and helping out local organizations whenever he can.
"He does a lot for the community, and I think that's why he has been in business for so long," General Manager Craig Whitney said.
Whitney said Morris is also good to his employees, which is what has kept Whitney at the restaurant for the last 16 years.
Neither Morris or Whitney have plans of going anywhere else.
In the coming months, the restaurant will undergo a renovation that will bring booth seating and new décor, but the heart of the business will remain the same — good pizza, good service and a positive attitude.