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Jaffrey

A slice of the economy

PIZZA BARN: Restaurant with locations in Jaffrey and Peterborough celebrates 40 years

  • The Jaffrey Pizza Barn has been family owned and operated for 40 years this year. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Jaffrey Pizza Barn has been family owned and operated for 40 years this year. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Jaffrey Pizza Barn has been family owned and operated for 40 years this year. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Jaffrey Pizza Barn has been family owned and operated for 40 years this year. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Jaffrey Pizza Barn has been family owned and operated for 40 years this year. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Jaffrey Pizza Barn has been family owned and operated for 40 years this year. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Jaffrey Pizza Barn has been family owned and operated for 40 years this year. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

JAFFREY — When Nick Panagiotes graduated from high school, he didn’t have to worry about looking for a career. He already had one in the family business — running one of the oldest family pizza businesses in Southern New Hampshire.

His father, George Panagiotes, started The Pizza Barn in Winchendon, Mass., 40 years ago at a time when pizza places were few and far between. Jaffrey was one of those towns without its own pizza restaurant, and in fact, many in the region made it a habit to travel to the Winchendon store. So, when an opportunity came to purchase a property in the middle of downtown Jaffrey, the family jumped at the opportunity.

Panagiotes was only about eight when the family bought and remodeled the property where their first New Hampshire store still stands. He can remember playing in the building as it was remodeled. Even then, he said, he knew that he wanted to go into the family business. Now, he and his wife, Heather Panagiotes, run the Jaffrey store, and Panagiotes three children are already working there and showing an interest in continuing the family line.

Over 40 years, the business has gone through its highs and lows. At its height, the business had grown to three stores — the ones still currently in business in Jaffrey and Peterborough, and a third located in Rindge. But it was important to keep the business in the family, and there weren’t enough hands to manage all three stores. The Panagiotes made the decision to sell their slowest store — Rindge — rather than turn it over to someone outside the family to run.

“No one’s going to run your business like family will,” Panagiotes noted.

Panagiotes, along with his brothers, Artie and Tony Panagiotes, who now run the Pizza Barn in Peterborough together, all learned their trade at the knee of their father, and lesson number one was to take pride in doing things the right way, even if it’s not the easiest way. That can mean between five and six hours of prep work every day, because many of their signature toppings are made in the store. They receive fresh bread every day, make their own dough, cook their own roast beef, shred their own cheese and slice the meat for their pizzas and subs every day.

“We literally do things the same way we did when my dad ran the business. The recipes are the same. We even use the same bread company we have since the 1970s. When you put effort like that in, people can tell,” he said. “You can get just about anything pre-made or pre-sliced these days. But I’ve tried pre-shredded cheese, and it just wasn’t the same as when we did it ourselves.” It’s the same story at the Peterborough store run by his brothers, he said.

But keeping with the family traditions doesn’t mean that the Pizza Barn has remained stagnant, either, said Panagiotes. It’s had to change with the times to keep afloat through varying economic climates, and to adjust to the fact that, unlike when it first opened, Pizza Barn isn’t the only place in the area to get a slice.

Athens Pizza opened up just down the street from Pizza Barn in Jaffrey in the 1980s, and Peterborough now has five local pizza places, said Panagiotes, which creates direct competition. And when Athens moved in, the menu at Pizza Barn changed dramatically to compensate. When the store first opened, it has a small menu. “You would laugh if you saw it today,” Panagiotes said. “We had eight or nine pizza options and seven or eight grinders and that was it.” Now, the menu has become far more expanded, offering pizzas, subs, fried foods, salads and sides. But Athens isn’t the end of the competition for the pizza joint, he noted. The store took a big hit when McDonald’s moved in down the road, and they’re also in competition with other local chains, such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway.

They’re still changing even now, said Panagiotes. With the pub next door to the pizza place opening up and serving food, Panagiotes made the decision to apply for a license to serve beer and wine, which are now available at Pizza Barn. In order to maintain a family atmosphere, customers who wish to order alcohol are limited to three drinks and must also order a meal.

Even as he’s changing to keep up with competition, Panagiotes said he encourages local businesses, even other restaurants, on Route 124. Pizza Barn is located on Blake Street, directly off Route 124, and is not highly visible to passing traffic. So anything that attracts business downtown and alerts people to the fact that the business is there at all is good for him in the long run, he said.

Like any business, Pizza Barn is affected by the outside economy as well as local competition, said Panagiotes. Although the businesses experienced a hit during a down economy, they still managed to survive, because although people are more careful with their money during those times, that also means that people might make the choice to order a pizza or subs for dinner rather than going out for a more expensive dinner. With the most recent economic downturn, which started in 2007, Panagiotes said he hasn’t seen the business bounce back quite like it has from other slumps in the past.

“Even after the economy has recovered, we’re all going to be changed. We’re all going to be watching our dollars a little more closely,” he said.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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