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Two Guys from Italy: Love and Pizza in the Time of COVID

December 10, 2020
Jerry Rossi, owner of Two Guys from Italy, holding one of his pizzas. (Photo credit): images from @twoguysfromitalyglendale

How a neighborhood pizza shop pays it forward by donating meals to frontline workers and schools, and has served the community for over 20 years

When you walk into Two Guys from Italy, a local pizza restaurant located in Glendale, Calif., one of the first things you will notice is the abundance of Thank You awards on its walls. Among the many photos and certificates that say, “To our sponsor, Two Guys from Italy,” and even a folded American flag brought from Afghanistan by a pilot who flew in the war as a token for supporting his organization, you will see the name Jerry Rossi a lot. Then, you meet Rossi himself, a restaurateur and an owner of this pizza franchise that’s been in Glendale for close to three decades now.

Rossi sat down to talk to us about his business, discuss the challenges that he’s endured during the pandemic, share the charitable contributions he has made to the community and, of course, talk food.

The story of Two Guys

Two Guys from Italy was originally founded by Joseph Calderone and Luigi Devito. Over the years, this pizza restaurant turned into a successful franchise that offers a slew of classic Italian dishes made from scratch.

“I bought this franchise more than 30 years ago,” says Rossi. “First, we used to be at a different location, but then I found this place in Glendale, which I later remodeled and fixed up. Overnight, we moved from the old place to the current location, which was a big move for us, and we had to start from zero again.”

Luckily, Rossi was passionate about the business and knew how to make it a success. “Serving good food, helping community and doing a lot of fundraising just naturally came along,” he continues.

Two Guys from Italy serves an extensive menu of genuine Italian cuisine and provides an authentic atmosphere reminiscent of an Italian pizzeria. For those with food sensitivities, the restaurant provides alternatives.

As for the restaurant’s signature dish, Rossi says: “Pastas. They are really good, because everything we make, we make in-house—meatballs, sausage, marinara—and we make it the traditional way.”

Over the years, the restaurant has built a loyal customer base that not only comes back for their Italian comfort food fix, but also hires them to cater special occasions. The pizzeria also has a banquet room, which was used for hosting special events like birthdays, weddings, baby showers, family reunions or corporate events, pre-COVID.

“I’ve always had a passion for this, and I knew how to bring the business up, which I did. Serving good food, helping community and doing a lot of fundraising just naturally came along.”

-Jerry Rossi

Jerry Rossi standing next to the wall with Thank You awards and certificates

Operating the business in the pandemic

From furloughing and laying off staff, to simply halting operations altogether, it’s never been harder for small businesses to survive than it is now. According to Business Wire, over 43% of surveyed businesses reported that the pandemic has had a significant to severe impact on operations, with small businesses feeling the biggest hit. Notably, the Accommodation and Food services sector was one of the most severely impacted. Physical distancing, mandated operational restrictions, increased sanitary procedures and changed customer behavior have created challenges for many restaurants and put many business owners into survival mode.

“The pandemic has hit us really hard, especially in the first few weeks,” says Rossi. “Once we realized that this thing is serious, we closed the restaurant. People were afraid. Nobody would come out or wanted us to deliver.”

As a result, their business decreased by half. Over time, the volume of pickup orders and deliveries started improving again. “People need to eat, you know,” he remarks.

Since COVID-19 started, Rossi tried to keep as many people employed as possible and give them as many hours as he could. “The only people who got cut were the servers, because we don’t do dine-in,” Rossi says regretfully. “Other than that, I have everybody, and I am still hiring. We are looking for an extra cook.”

Rossi adds that he’s currently doing everything from cooking in the kitchen, to answering phones, to handling the restaurant’s marketing. “If I don’t do it, I would have to close the doors,” he says. “I am just trying to do whatever I can to survive this time.”

PPP loan to the rescue

Like many other businesses that needed a government-assisted cash injection, Rossi got a Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan with the help of East West Bank, where he’s been a customer for over 15 years.

“East West has helped me out really fast. I got a call from Yelena Krikorian, assistant branch manager, at night saying, ‘Jerry, we got to do this,’” Rossi says. “It was really nice of them. They’ve been working around the clock, assisting businesses like mine in processing the loan—and it has helped a lot. Even though PPP loan is still a loan that you have to pay back, without it, I don’t think we would have survived.”

Giving back to the community

Despite the economic hardships Two Guys is currently facing, Rossi hasn’t shied away from charity and has been supporting the local community and donating meals to frontline workers since this pandemic began.

“It all started when a customer wanted to donate food to hospital workers. And I was inspired and said, ‘Whatever you donate, I will donate too and add it on,’” says Rossi.

He started contributing additional meals based on the percentage of his budget and packing the food in individual servings and delivering it to frontline workers. The hospital liked the idea so much that they started giving Rossi’s number to people who wanted to donate food to nurses. After Rossi mentioned it on Facebook, more and more people started reaching out to him. “Then parents and school administrators saw it, and we started doing it for the teachers,” he adds. As the word caught on social media, other customers and restaurants followed suit.

“This is amazing,” Rossi says, “All these people have come together to give back.”

Besides delivering meals to nurses and doctors at Adventist Health Glendale, Rossi also donated meals to the Glendale Police Department, teachers and administrators at Wilson Middle School and some 250 people at the Burbank Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, among other organizations.

“I did it because I felt like I had to help,” he says. “This is your community that always has your back. And you have to support it when it needs you. I would do it again if I have to. Not for advertising or for showing off, but because I really want to help.”

But it’s not just the pandemic that spurred Rossi’s charitable actions; he’s been giving back to the community for years by supporting schools, charities and youth sports teams.

Jerry Rossi donating meals to teachers and administrators at Wilson Middle School

Twice a year, parents from Wilson Middle School can buy a certificate from Two Guys for “Make Your Own Pizza Day,” where kids are taught how to make their own pizza at the restaurant. “They wear chef hats and aprons, and parents love it,” says Rossi. Rossi donates the proceeds from the certificates back to the school.

Rossi has also been a great supporter of Glendale High School, and he has been recognized for his contributions on the school’s billboard many times. Additionally, he has many plaques featuring the youth sports teams he’s supported hanging proudly in the lobby of his restaurant. One time, a Glendale parent saw him wearing his Two Guys t-shirt at AAA and approached Jerry just to thank him for his donations to their son’s football team.

“You know…I am just a part of Glendale, part of the community that I love and want to support,” Rossi says.

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