Metro, Food, Features

Ernest Rozzi and Crazy Dough’s Pizza Serve The Community, Even When Nobody Else Can

Over 18 inches of snow buried Chestnut Hill during a blizzard on Jan. 26, but that didn’t stop a Commonwealth Ave. pizza parlor from opening its doors.

Ernest “Ernie” Rozzi, owner of Crazy Dough’s Pizza, which sits feet from the Boston-Newton city line and across from Boston College’s campus, worked from 5 a.m on Jan. 26 until 1 a.m. the next morning serving pizzas to about 250 BC students. 

“It was amazing,” said Rozzi. “I just—phones are ringing off the hook. The app was going nuts. And at one time I had over 35 orders. I couldn’t have made that deal. I was that far behind.”

Whether through blizzards, the heat of studentless summer months, or a global pandemic, Crazy Dough’s has continued to serve its surrounding community through its hearty pizzas, pastas and calzones. And Rozzi, at the helm since 2015, runs the shop.

Rozzi was born and raised in Lawrence, Mass., and his journey to becoming the owner of Crazy Dough’s was far from linear. He held a variety of jobs throughout his childhood, both in and out of the food industry. 

Rozzi grew up working at his dad’s music store during the summers. He would sit at the register and keep up the books. Although music did not end up being his career of choice, Rozzi said the job connected him to customer service. 

“Just that environment of seeing people everyday—I enjoyed helping people,” Rozzi said. “I enjoyed seeing people smile and laugh. You know, when I helped them, or didn’t help them, I always want to find out how I can open up, to help them have a better experience.” 

Rozzi’s first job out of his dad’s store was in a pizzeria at age 15. As a busboy, he learned the behind-the-scenes operations of what it takes to run a pizza shop. 

“I went to this little local pizza store when I was little, and I bought a nice slice of pizza,” said Rozzi. “And so I worked there, my first job. I wanted to do everything. I loved everything about it, from making pizza, making sauce, and watching the restaurant be run.”

From that job, he moved on to working at a Domino’s Pizza store at age 21 and eventually became the store’s manager. Then, at 26, he decided he wanted to franchise his own Domino’s branch. Rozzi walked into a meeting with his dad and his boss and asked to run his own store. But his boss had different plans.

“[His boss said,] ‘Well, we don’t think that your son is ready,’” Rozzi said. “‘But your son’s ready to be a district manager of my 11 Domino’s instead, but we’re not going to give him his own Domino’s.’ So my father asks him, ‘What does this pay?’ He wanted me to run his 11 Dominos for $9.25 an hour in 1996.”

Knowing his own worth, Rozzi said, he and his dad walked out of the store and decided to look for better opportunities. Four of the 11 Domino’s locations went on to close, according to Rozzi. 

“They went out of business,” said Rozzi. “It’s all about karma, you know, and timing and everything like that.”

At 26, Rozzi opened up Bravo, his very first pizza store in Lawrence, Mass.. The store was successful, he said, but he and his wife, Melissa Santucci Rozzi, knew they wanted to expand their reach to Boston. They were cautious, however, as they realized the city would prove to have more competition than they were used to. 

Looking around Boston for the right opportunity, Rozzi and his wife ended up speaking to the owner of Crazy Dough’s in 2015, explaining that they were interested in purchasing the branch in Brighton and hopefully expanding it down the line. 

“I pitched to the gentleman,” said Rozzi. “I’m like, ‘Me and my wife will go forward with what you have here, and we’re gonna expand it.’ He’s like, ‘Oh I’m done. You’re more than welcome to keep whatever I have here.’” 


NEW CHAPTER

On a cloudy afternoon in early March, Rozzi spoke about the early mornings and long days he spent keeping Crazy Dough’s afloat. Sitting at a round table near the restaurant’s expansive street-facing windows, his eyes welled up with tears.

Rozzi said he and his family would wake up as early as 4 a.m. to help him deliver pizzas in five different cities across Greater Boston, as well as fulfill orders for various school lunch programs. 

He attributes his biggest influence to his late uncle, Mike.  

“My Uncle Mike was huge in my life—he allowed me to be an owner and make mistakes,” said Rozzi. “Because at 26, I really was not as polished as I wanted to be. We would cut 500 pizzas a day. I would look over at him at like, six in the morning. I could see him with a pizza cutter in his hand, up against a table, passed out.”

Since becoming owners of the store, Rozzi and his wife knew they wanted to be a lot more connected to the BC community, serving sports teams and students during games. They began collaborating with BC Athletics in the last couple years, he said, sponsoring the hockey and baseball teams during the pandemic. 

“Everything in connection to BC has been my wife and myself: us wanting to be involved with the community, getting to know every customer that walks in the door, you know, knowing their name,” Rozzi said.

Melissa Rozzi especially wanted to create an environment in the store conducive to enabling BC students to spend time with one another. She decided to paint the store bright green and include patio seating in the summer to make the space more welcoming. 

“It’s fun for the kids to visit, unlike these dreary places that you go in, and there’s, you know, one guy working by himself,”  Melissa Rozzi said. “It’s just, you know, kind of just like a light, nice, little environment.”

Rozzi’s commitment to serving the Boston College community was especially apparent during the blizzard this year. After hearing that dining services may not be open, and worried that the school would not be able to handle the influx of BC students, Rozzi made a commitment to keeping Crazy Dough’s open. Using Herrd and Facebook to spread the word, he single handedly manned the shop for 20 hours.

“I look at it almost like a partnership, even though we’re not partners with BC,” Rozzi said. “I can help them out. I know they’re short staffed in the cafeteria. I’m sure there was no way they could have 10,000 kids waiting for food.”

Crazy Dough’s late-night initiative on Fridays and Saturdays has also helped create community at the restaurant, according to Melissa Rozzi. She said that she enjoys seeing students stop by either between parties or after the night is over to grab a slice. 

Students are thankful for the restaurant’s extended hours. 

“It’s a great spot, especially coming back from a night in Boston with my friends on the T,” John Soroka, CSOM ’25, said. “It’s right there, it’s a very convenient location, and they serve great food.”

Rozzi said the pandemic has been difficult for his family and business, but through it all, he stayed connected to the BC community. He said he kept reminding himself that the students were struggling during this time too. 

“We all went through it together,” Rozzi said. 

Rozzi said he hopes to expand his store. He is proud of how far his business has journeyed, but more than anything, he is grateful to the community. 

“You guys come into the store chanting, like ‘support local businesses, support local businesses, support local businesses,’” said Rozzi. “It is really touching, and I really appreciate that. This is how we live, you know, day by day. We don’t live extravagant lifestyles. We just support ourselves, and I do what I do for love.”

Images by Vikrum Singh / Heights Editor

March 20, 2022
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