The spirit of Loudon is alive, well and flourishing at Brookside Pizza. Brookside Pizza serves grinders, delicious dinners and pizza with a strong topping of community activism. On a recent morning visit to the restaurant I met with Billy Lazos, the founder of Brookside Pizza, and his wife, Sandi, while they prepared pizza crusts, toppings and sandwich makings for the day.
Billy founded the restaurant in 1987 and for the first 3 years put all his profits back into the business. “Those first years were hard,” said Billy. “But since then business has gotten better every year.”
Billy grew up in Grevena, a small city in northern Greece about 600 kilometers north of Athens. He came to the US in 1982 to attend Bradford College in Massachusetts and later Northern Essex College. Back in Greece, Billy had a degree in Aircraft Engineering but when he came to the States he had to start school all over again. In 1987 he took a break from college to help establish Brookside Pizza. He met his wife, Sandi Lemay, a Loudon resident, at the restaurant and they were married in 1992. Sandi encouraged Billy to buy out his partner and Billy has no regrets about the decision.
Billy loves the restaurant business. Sandi recently asked her husband, “Do you ever wake up and not want to go to work?” Billy’s answer is always, “No!” He loves the business so much he started Brookside 2 in Belmont.
“Back in Greece I had to make it on my own. There was no one there to help me. When I came to this country I decided to do what I could to help my community.” And that is just what he has done. A soccer pro in Greece (he played center or #10 on a second division team in Greece) he supports local sports teams. Mike Woodward, Billy and Sandi’s partner, pointed proudly to “Billy’s wall” which was covered with pictures of local sports teams including Loudon Little League and Soccer Teams. Billy has been sponsoring local sports teams since the restaurant first opened. “I love it when a customer points to a picture on the wall of a 10 year old boy and says, ‘That’s me when I was a kid!’”
Besides the local sports teams, Billy also has pictures of famous race car and motorcycle drivers who have visited his restaurant. “Kyle Petty was a regular and so was Ward Burton. Some drivers would come to Loudon for 10 races a year and would eat here 20 times,” said Billy.
In 1995 Jen , a life-time Loudon resident, started working at Brookside. Jen and her husband, Michael Woodward, were partners with Billy and Sandi. And they needed their new partners to run the restaurants because Billy and Sandi took two years off to live in Greece. They sold their house and moved with their two children, daughter Erofili now 9, and son Dimitri now 11 to Billy’s hometown of Grevena.
Sandi loved Greece. “I wanted to learn about another culture but I also wanted to live in a small town. Grevena was wonderful but did take some getting used to. In a small town in Greece your business is also everyone else’s business and sometimes that was hard for us.” Sandi did learn how to speak Greek and is quite proficient at writing with the Greek alphabet. In fact, at home the Lazos family only speaks Greek, while in the restaurant they only speak English.
Sandi said, “The schools were great in Greece but after two years we decided to come home. My daughter and I loved it but Billy and Dimitri wanted to come back to Loudon.”
So now they are back in Loudon. Sandi, Billy and their children are running the restaurant. Billy loves giving co-workers nicknames. Jen is “Slick” and his wife, Sandi is “Boss” (of course!). But more than that, local teenagers respect and look up to Billy. When Billy is taking orders he kids his teenage customers about their baggy clothes or bad behavior. “They listen to me,” says Billy, “and next time they come in they look better and act better.”
The restaurant stays open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. — exactly. “No matter how slow business is, I won’t close a minute before 9 p.m. One night I closed early. After I closed a regular customer decided he was hungry and wanted to order a sub. When he discovered we were closed he was disappointed and told me so the next day. Ever since then we stay open until 9 p.m. no matter how slow business is,” said Billy.
And, except during Motorcycle Race weekend (when local customers stay home and race fans only want to use the rest room), Brookside Pizza stays open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., 7 days a week. According to Billy, business gets better every year. It’s easy to see why, because the pizza is delicious and the vegetables and toppings are always fresh. On the Friday morning I interviewed the Lazos it was hard to ignore the smell of cooking pizza sauce. My stomach growled and my thoughts turned to pizza…for breakfast?
In 1997 Billy and Sandy decided to expand the pizza business so they bought the Belmont House of Pizza and renamed it Brookside Pizza II "Shawn's Place" after Shawn who became partner and manager. Since day one business has doubled. For almost five years Shawn was running the place with Christine and Mike's help.
In 2003 Shawn decided to move on in his computer business. So, Christine took over with Mike (her son) who is a big help. She did a lot to change and to improve the business. With Christine working almost 7 days a week, the business improved almost 130%. She brought new ideas to the Brookside business - appearance, the bar, the pool tournament, and the expansion of the menu. The menu now includes Honey BBQ Chicken Fingers, The 1/2 Fried Chicken, The Veggie Platter, and The Chix Special. But, from Billy's point of view, Christine's most important contribution was the structure of the kitchen which he has adopted at the other restaurants. Thanks Christine!