Some people have a dream to open a restaurant. They have a few special recipes or they know their way around a kitchen. They have a romantic vision of what it will be like. They're sure that they'll create the next great place. It usually turns out that they had no idea what they were getting themselves into. Most of them fail.
So when another pizza place opened up in JP, more than a few heads were scratched. Is he crazy? Doesn't he know that JP is saturated with pizza? Well, Slice O' Pie at 378 Center St. isn't one of those same old places destined to fail, and Eric Ciampa isn't crazy. He knows exactly what he's doing. He says that his style of pizza is special, everything they make is prepared fresh to order, they don't use any frozen food and they don't even put up salads ahead of time in the morning.
Apparently there's more than meets the eye at Slice O' Pie. Six weeks into the effort he's had to double his staff and still works seven days a week from 11am-midnight. According to Ciampa, sales began with a boom on Saturday, Feb. 5 with lines out the door and down the sidewalk. He says that the initial enthusiasm hasn't dwindled. As soon as the place opens in the morning, people are waiting. Some tradespeople in the area even wait for him to open to buy coffee. In conversation with nearby residents, there were a couple of comments about how good his burgers are. Ciampa says that his home-cooked meals and daily specials, as far-reaching as corned beef and cabbage for St. Pattie's Day, account for half his sales and people are streaming in at the rate of 100-120 a day. On top of that there are deliveries and drop-off catering orders.
At just 650 sq. ft., the former home of La Pupusa Guanaca is shoehorned into the corner spot beside the pub. Surprisingly, the cook Ciampa is also a licensed electrician with a pretty good grounding in the building trade. He did about 80 percent of the work himself, so the buildout cost him a lot less than it would the typical cook.
Next door, the Behan serves no food, but according to Ciampa, it encourages people to carry-in and is pleased to send its customers to him. Ciampa, who hopes to add beer and wine to the menu at some future date, says that the pub has even indicated they will support him in that.
Planning for the long haul, Ciampa negotiated a 5-year lease with two 5-year options. He is happy with the lease, has a good relationship with his landlord and will pay a flat rate that only escalates at renewal. It was signed before he or the public knew about Whole Foods' , when it appeared that Hyde Square might be in a little trouble. Ciampa saw beyond that and it's beginning to look like he signed at the bottom of the market. That's lucky, but it's also the result of foot work and knowing his business.
When he was looking for a location he bumped into the owner of the building who asked him to take a look at the space. He stood at the doorway and realized that the spot was visible from all the different angles approaching Hyde Square. He also noticed that there were many nearby restaurants, something he figured indicated that the area was a food destination, a very savvy point of view. A more timid operator would be afraid of the competition.
There's a reason for Ciampa's confidence. Although Slice O' Pie isn't the same old pizza place, his father is the owner of , a JP institution since 1978 where the 41-year-old Ciampa worked from the time he was 16. Some people have a dream to open a restaurant, for Ciampa, it's in his blood.
Slice O' Pie, 378 Centre St., is open 11am-11pm Sun-Thu and 11am-midnight Fri-Sat. 617-522-6022