In the nearly three years that Joanie’s Pizza has been open in Chelmsford, they’ve developed relationships with loyal customers who keep coming back to — and who have kindly spread the word about — their not-quite-New York, not-quite-New Haven pizza.
Owners and husband and wife Dan Rodriguez and Anne Thompson said the regional love and positive reviews for their more elevated pies has kept them busy, giving the business enough to reinvest in itself each year.
But then a blessing and a curse of sorts happened. Dave Portnoy, the controversial Barstool Sports founder and influential pizza reviewer, caught wind of the word-of-mouth press Joanie’s had received.
Portnoy was at the Army/Navy game Dec. 9 and thought he’d see if this take-out-only spot outside of Lowell was really worth the hype.
After “one bite,” Portnoy gave Joanie’s an 8.4 out of 10, which, according to his rating system, meant it was “spectacular.” He would have given it an even higher 8.6 — a 6.5 or higher tends to be good enough praise from Portnoy — but he prefers his pizza without the grated hard cheese that was sprinkled on top of his Joanie’s pie.
“How doesn’t this place have a line around the corner?” Portnoy said in the video review. He’s gone on to say on social media that Joanie’s is his favorite pizza in Massachusetts and that he doesn’t care “if others have scored higher in the past.”
After Portnoy’s review was posted online, Rodriguez said there’s been a line out the door every day. As has been the case with highly-ranked pizzerias on One Bite: If Portnoy likes it, people will come in droves — whether you’re prepared or not.
Rodriguez and Thompson stressed that they are grateful to get this amount of business.
“It’s really cool when people like your pizza,” Rodriguez said. “Especially someone who … he eats pizza every day. It’s very flattering.”
A typical weekday at Joanie’s may have meant 100 pizzas ordered. On their busiest day, a Friday, they would sell out at 300 pizzas.
Since the review, they’ve hit 400 orders easily every day they’re open, Tuesday to Saturday, with a line wrapping around the Chelmsford strip mall. They sell out of pizzas on Fridays now around 4 p.m., with people who have sometimes traveled as far as Montreal waiting in line for hours.
This has presented some problems in the shop that’s only 1,000 square feet and has one oven, Rodriguez said. The restaurant also doesn’t have any seating.
Rodriguez and Thompson said they had to double their staff — going from a very small crew of six employees to a slightly bigger staff of 12 — and they’ve temporarily stopped accepting orders via phone or online.
“I was aware of the reviews and who he was and that it was a big deal. But I’m thinking, ‘OK, big deal is like a weekend,’” said Thompson, who added that they’ve remained this busy going on four weeks now.
In the meantime they’re improving their system to take more orders more efficiently, but that’s still weeks out, Thompson said.
So part of their plan is to wait it out until the buzz dies down — if it dies down.
“Right now it feels like we’re riding a bronco, and every day you’re just trying to hang on,” Thompson jokes. “Our priority is to make our product — get the best pizza we can out the door.”
A tip for those who’d like to try Joanie’s: Rodriguez said the wait time they give you is the wait time you’re likely to wait. So if they say 2 hours, well, you’re waiting 2 hours for pizza. But according to Portnoy, you’d be waiting for the best pizza in the commonwealth.
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