Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Chester Cab Pizzeria
I was rather surprised last year by the amount of news coverage about the supposed closing of Chester Cab Pizzeria. True, it's been around since the 1970s, but I didn't think it was that much of a local institution, outside the Park Avenue area, to warrant such extensive coverage.
Then I found out that it wasn't closing, after all. It was going to continue in business, under a new owner, who had been an employee.
At that point, I thought the whole thing was a scam. There had been some fake closing, I thought, just to generate publicity for the miraculous rebirth.
I was wrong. There was no scam, but to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of Chester Cab's demise were greatly exaggerated.
Instead, ownership and operation were seamlessly assumed by Dessislav ("Dess") Ivanov, a native of Bulgaria who had been a long-time employee of Chester Cab.
I stopped in the other day, and got a couple of slices at lunchtime. While there, I chatted with Dess.
He started working here around 2000, so he knows the business well. When the former owner decided to get out of the business, Dess and he reached a deal for Dess to assume ownership.
Dess tells me that he was quite surprised to see the news stories about Chester Cab closing. Far from generating interest, Dess tells me that those reports have hurt, and that he is still trying to overcome the perception that Chester Cab has shut its doors.
But he's getting there, and he's clearly dedicated to making the operation better. He's made some physical changes, such as expanded outdoor seating, and he's working on expanding indoor seating as well, although as you can imagine, doing so requires jumping through a number of bureaucratic hoops.
Another thing Dess has tried to change is Chester Cab's reputation, in one respect at least. For whatever reason, the pizzeria had a certain reputation for rude service. That's not my judgment - take a look at some online reviews and you'll see for yourself.
Dess has set out to change that. As a native of Bulgaria, he frankly is quite familiar with poor customer service. And having lived here long enough to see what good customer service is all about, he's under no illusions that surly service adds to the "charm" of the place. (Again, I'm not saying that the service here was surly in the past, but I've seen complaints to that effect.)
And so it is that every day, Dess reminds his employees that customer service is the most important aspect of the business. Even if the pizza's good, if somebody gets turned off by bad service, they likely won't be back. So the message is, provide good service, and if the customer's not happy, address the problem.
At the same time, good customer service only goes so far. The pizza's got to be good too. Chester Cab still offers the meal-in-itself stuffed pizza that it's best known for, as well as its "regular" pizza and a newer, thin New York style pie.
I tried a slice of the regular (a/k/a "original") and NY style. They were similar, both thin, but the parbaked original was a little more browned underneath and slightly crisper. The NY style is a tad thinner and more foldable. I enjoyed both and found the subtle differences interesting, though on purely stylistic grounds I don't think I can say that the NY style was entirely authentic; a true NY slice should be more charred underneath, and both pliable and crisp. But semantics aside, both were tasty, with nicely melted mozzarella and a slightly sweet, tomatoey sauce. The essential difference came down to pliability vs. crispness.
While Dess continues to work to raise public awareness, he does say that he's gotten great support from the people in his neighborhood. I saw evidence of that during my visit when a customer, obviously a regular, stopped in with his dog in tow (which he got here, by the way).
I've been writing this blog for about five years, and Dess is as dedicated an owner as I've seen. He clearly wants to make his pizza as good as it can be, and to make his customers happy.
Dess told me that when his mother (who also lives here now) goes back to the old country, she doesn't hesitate to complain about the pizza, and to harangue the staff with complaints that they should go to America and try her son's pizza, to see what good pizza and good service are all about.
And I don't doubt it. Chester Cab offers good pizza, and good service.
In conjunction with this blog post, Dess graciously agreed to offer a $20 gift certificate for me to give away to a reader. If you'd like a chance to win, leave a comment at the end of the accompanying blog post. (You can leave general comments here, but they won't get you entered.) I'll pick a winner next week.
Chester Cab Pizza, 707 Park Ave
Rochester, NY 14607
Mon-Wed 11:00am - 10:00pm
Thurs 11:00am - 11:00pm
Fri-Sat 11:00am - Midnight
Sun Noon - 10:00pm