by Nancy Stiles
Last fall we reported on two pizza places coming to Maplewood's historic main drag. One is open; the other is not quite there. A Pizza Story, helmed by three former academics, is currently under construction at 7278 Manchester Avenue, transforming from a typewriter-repair shop into a restaurant.
We caught up with co-owner Muhammad Alhawagri to see how things are progressing and if we'll be devouring a pie at A Pizza Story any time soon.
"Things are going," Alhawagri says. "We're done with the oven, the kitchen is in progress, the walk-in cooler is almost done, and there's the hardwood floor to be installed. But we are actually progressing rapidly in the buildout."
Originally Alhawagri and his partners Sherif Nasser and Nael Saad predicted a December 2013 opening, but Alhawagri says that was perhaps too hopeful. Construction is taking longer than they thought, but the buildout is about halfway done.
The wood-fire oven is finished, though, and Alhawagri has been curing it for about four weeks. This keeps the oven from cracking when it's cooking at the high temperatures needed for pizza. Once the kitchen is finished, they can start tinkering with the recipes they've been making at home.
The owners are in the process of entering the menu into the POS; servers will use mini-tablets to take orders and payment, which Alhawagri says will make it easier to track what's working and what isn't and improve the customers' experience.
Despite the setbacks, Alhawagri hasn't lost any of his enthusiasm for A Pizza Story. He laughs as he declines to speculate on an opening date. "We learned our lesson. We can't say exactly when, but I think in the next couple of weeks, once we start installing the hardwood floor, we will also decide an exact date," he says. "That's my vision. I think once we reach that point we can be more confident."