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Let’s Eat: Traditional and local

A pizzeria that supports local food producers feels Thunder Bay’s love for local during the pandemic.

Derek Lucchese says he’s seen a lot more new customers coming to Both Hands Wood-Fired Pizzeria and Bakery since the pandemic started. “While in lockdown, we didn’t see our regular customers, the dine-in people, that often. But we had lots of people come to us and say, ‘we’re here because we’re making an effort to support local,’” he says.

Lucchese and his wife Sue Holloway own the popular pizzeria and bakery, and they made some quick decisions when the pandemic hit last year. “We had to close dine in, we had to scale back shifts,” Lucchese recalls. To make up for lost revenue from dine-in customers and to keep his staff employed, they invested in a vacuum sealer and other equipment, and started selling frozen pizzas in December 2020.

”We wanted to see if there was a way we could grow sales, and result in more hours for staff,” he explains. The pizzas are parbaked, frozen and vacuum sealed, ready to be baked from frozen by the customer. All six of their standard combinations are available, plus pepperoni pizza and some gluten free options. According to Lucchese, the Bohemian, Gran Torino and Fungus Among Us are the most popular kinds.

They are currently sold at Both Hands Wood-Fired Pizzeria and Bakery’s location on Park Avenue, four retailers in town (George’s Market, Dawson General Store, Agostino’s and Kelly’s Nutrition Centre) as well as the Odena in Kakabeka Falls and through Superior Seasons’ online ordering system.

The frozen pizzas were an immediate hit. “It took off right away and it’s been a real help,” Lucchese says.

The pizzeria is open four days a week from Wednesday to Saturday, so the frozen pizzas are made on the other days, keeping the 10 employees busy throughout the week.

“We lost a couple of people [at the beginning of the pandemic], but everyone else, who stuck around, we have been able to give them almost as many hours as they want. Some of them, maybe more than they want,” he chuckles. “We’ve been lucky that way.”

To give back to the community, the restaurant has been doing “pay what you can by the slice” every day since March 2020. Previously a monthly event, now, anyone can walk in and ask for a slice and pay what they can afford to pay.

Both Hands will transition back to dine-in at some point in the future, though the dining space will be smaller now that frozen pizzas are taking up some space in the dining area. The giant brick oven, built by Lucchese himself, was refurbished with a new hearth last summer and is still going strong, baking not only delicious pizzas but artisanal sourdough bread, cookies, granola and more.

Lucchese counts himself among the more fortunate during this pandemic. Although nothing can replicate the irresistible crispness of a fresh pizza straight out of Lucchese’s brick oven, a take-out model works well for pizza. “All things considered, we’re doing pretty good,” he says gratefully.

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