BEACHWOOD, Ohio — Restaurants have really struggled during the pandemic, but that’s not the case for every aspect of the industry.
After turning on the lights and the ovens in the morning, Mario Santo Domingo starts preparing the dough for the day and the upcoming Super Bowl this Sunday.
“We’re all sold out, so really it’s going to be just an extra day of prep," said Santo Domingo.
The busy chef starts making a pizza he calls “meat sweats."
“It’s basically like a spicy meat lovers," said Santo Domingo. “It’s something we made it up ourselves. We just wanted something kind of like funny to say. And it’s pretty popular, and it’s actually super delicious.”
He sticks the pizza in the oven, then opens the tomato sauce and chops up some onions for his homemade pizza sauce. The new restaurant owner of Mar Mar’s Popup Pizza Kitchen admits he’s still learning.
“I'm coming in early, then I’m going home and getting my son down for a nap and trying to figure out how best to do this still," he said. "It’s always a challenge, and I love challenges. It’s why I do this.”
Santo Domingo and his wife started Mar Mar’s Pop Up Pizza Kitchen in late 2020 inside the kitchen of this Rosso restaurant in Beachwood after losing their jobs or having hours reduced to the recession caused by COVID-19.
“I went from five days to three days, and then to one day, so then I just made the switch to doing this," said Santo Domingo. “It’s either we work for somebody else or we go and do our own thing, and you know, at this point in time, there’s no failing. It’s you tried something, and if it doesn’t work out, you still tried.”
And that chance has paid off as Mar Mar’s has had a lot of success and demand so far as it's selling out of dough almost every day.
“The support has been completely overwhelming. I mean, we didn’t expect this to happen at all as far as the success of Mar Mar’s and the community of Beachwood has been extremely great.”
Mar Mar’s isn’t the only pizza business having success. As pizza deliveries and pickups have been in demand since the start of the pandemic, according the Ohio Restaurant Association (ORA).
John Barker of the ORA explained that's because the business model fits with the pandemic with so much of the product being taken out and delivered.
“The pizza category in many places is up high single digits and some cases double digits year over year in terms of sales. Those are big numbers in any time, but to do that during the pandemic is incredible because we have restaurants that are down 20, 30, 50, 70%” said Barker. He said technology, like smart phones, has made ordering pizza easier.
Back at Mar Mar’s, Santo Domingo heads out to where his temporary pickup sign is.
“You know, it’s a goofy little sign, but I love it. It’s like, you know, kind of hope for the future.”
He took the pizza out of the oven and cut it up. He hopes he can keep up the momentum doing what he loves.
“Ideally, we’re going to have a pizza shop — something that my wife and I can do with a very small amount of people and, you know, make a decent living.”
Although the pandemic has forced many restaurants to cut back or even close, this industry continues to make some serious “dough.”