There was a line around the block when Shalom Pizza re-opened its doors in 2004. Guy Shitrit had big plans for the kosher pizza joint, an institution of the Overbrook neighborhood, and he needed a month to perfect his vision.
As the building underwent renovations, Shitrit drew up a new pizza blueprint. The sauce would be made from crushed tomatoes and fresh herbs. The mozzarella would be grated on the spot. And the dough would be focaccia style.
Pies flew off the counter that first day, but many offered Shitrit one request as they gobbled their slices: “Can you put a little bit more ketchup in your sauce?”
Shitrit laughed at the memory. He didn’t add ketchup, but the point was taken: The customers wanted their pizza sauce smooth and creamy, not chunky, so the chefs began pureeing the tomatoes.
Fourteen years later, Shitrit will soon turn Shalom Pizza over to a new owner and retire to Israel with his family. He’s learned innumerable lessons behind the counter, including one from his first day of business.
“You can’t sell gourmet pizzas here!” he said.
Gourmet or not, Shalom Pizza has been the pizza of choice for many in the area dating to 1997. Shitrit is the restaurant’s fifth owner, and the one who stuck around the longest.
He first left Israel for the United States in 1997 and started a clothing store. He went back to Israel in 2000, only to return to the Philadelphia area four years later. That’s when he took over Shalom Pizza, and soon had his hand in even more businesses, including real estate, biotech and construction. He’s the founder and CEO of the Guy Advisors Group.
As his businesses flourished, Shitrit longed for home. Seven years ago he moved to Israel once more, but soon realized running Shalom Pizza from afar was much too difficult. He was back in the Philadelphia area 15 months later.
Some main clients are schools. Shalom Pizza caters lunches, Shitrit said, to the Morris and Rose Caskey Torah Academy, Har Zion Temple’s preschool, Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El’s preschool, Adath Israel on the Main Line’s preschool, Penn Hillel, Hillel at Temple University and the Kaiserman JCC’s preschool, among others.
Shitrit called school children his most “important clients.”
“That’s 90 percent of our business,” he said.
Natalie O’Brien, assistant director of the Kaiserman JCC’s preschool program, said Shalom Pizza is one of two places she’s ordered food from in her 22 years on the job. She first met Shitrit and his wife, Nurit, back when the couple’s children attended school.
Then, after Shitrit bought Shalom Pizza, their relationship continued.
“They’re great and nice people and always take care of us,” O’Brien said. “If I call and have to add something, they don’t mind.”
Shitrit always wanted to own a restaurant, and in 2004 he seized the opportunity to take over Shalom Pizza. In the years since he has bolstered its reputation.
He said moving on from Shalom Pizza was a difficult decision. Business is booming, and he cherishes the community relationships he’s made. He’ll miss coming for lunch twice a week and munching on the three-fish platter or a fresh salad.
He’s not rushing out the door. He’s looking for someone who will carry on Shalom Pizza’s legacy, who will value its importance as an area institution and a favorite of local school children.
Though he’ll be across the world in Israel, he wants to make sure Shalom Pizza lives on. And for good reason.
“Who doesn’t love pizza?” he said.
[email protected]; 215-832-0737