CHATHAM – After 33 years, New England Pizza Chatham will be moving from 1200 Main St. to 1077 Main St. to merge with its sister restaurant, Knots Landing Bar & Grill, when its lease expires at the end of this month.
“It’s a win-win for everyone,” says Sophia Malitas, 51, who, with her brother Philip Malitas, 55, owns the two restaurants and the property at 1077 Main St.
One afternoon last week the pair sat down at a table in New England Pizza, which seats 100, to talk about their plans. Both jumped up from the table from time to time to deal with customers. They often address one another in Greek, which was their first language growing up in Worcester. Their work days are long—from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. off-season and to 10 p.m. in the summer, when on a busy day the restaurant might sell over 300 pizzas. Each has two days off per week.
The pair bought the property at 1077 Main St. about a year ago and, after renovations, opened the new restaurant in April. Knots Landing, which currently serves Italian food, steak and seafood, will add pizza as well as selected Greek dishes such as pastitsio (a baked pasta dish), spanakopita (spinach pie), avgolemono (lemon chicken soup) and baklava to its menu. Take-out pizza that can be picked up or delivered will now be available at the new location. And in fact, you can also have Knots Landing’s entrees delivered to your home.
In January the equipment from 1200 Main St., including five pizza ovens, will be moved to Knots Landing where the kitchen will be reconfigured. The plan is for Knots Landing and New England Pizza to open in February for six days a week, closing on Mondays. In season the restaurant will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. The same menu is available in both the bar and the dining room.
Knots Landing got its name because the late actress Julie Harris was a regular customer of New England Pizza. “We used to deliver week in, week out,” Sophia recalls, and sometimes Harris ate at the restaurant. Harris’s regular pizza? Tomato and onion. In the late 1980s, when the cast and crew of the TV show Knots Landing, which ran from 1979 to 1993 and starred Harris, stayed at Chatham Bars Inn, Sophia delivered pizzas to them. For all of these reasons the pair decided to name their new restaurant Knots Landing as an homage to Harris.
Phil says pizza is “in our blood.” The siblings’ parents, Andigoni “Ann” and Peter Malitas, immigrated to Worcester from Ioannina, Greece, which is northwest of Athens, in the 1950s. In 1958 they opened a pizza shop in Worcester serving pizza the Greek way, baked in a shallow pan in a 550-degree oven. In 1987 the Malitas family moved the business into this building in Chatham, a former candle shop. Sophia and Phil were then 19 and 23. Peter died in 2011; Ann, 90, still comes in to work behind the counter. Sophia’s two sons Niko and Peter Christakis are the third generation to work in the restaurant.
Is it tough to work in a family business?
“Every job has its stresses,” Sophia says. “I make the most of it. I don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Phil says that in 1987 his family was “basically a little bit of a trendsetter” when it designed the menu for what was originally called New England Pizza Number 3. (The other two New England Pizzas were run in Hyannis by Ann’s brothers.) As well as pizza, the menu included subs and salads but the family added burgers, French fries, wings and pastas. The pair is constantly sampling other businesses’ pizzas and in recent years added a gluten-free pizza option to the menu. Knots Landing also serves gluten-free foods.
The number following the business’s name has caused confusion through the years. A few years ago Phil changed the “three” to “Chatham” to mitigate confusion. But it turns out that, as Sophia says, smartphones “aren’t so smart.” People sometimes show up for their orders after phoning a pizzeria in another state. Sophia has tried to deliver pizzas ordered by someone in New Jersey.
Close relationships with customers are one of the payoffs for the long hours of restaurant work. “We look forward to the summer,” Sophia says. “Locals—you see them every week. We’re a big happy family.”
Since New England Pizza has been in the same location for an entire generation, if you think about it, customers are waxing sentimental about the move.
“Everyone says, ‘you’re leaving? I have to come to take pictures,’” Sophia says.
On Facebook one long-time customer laments the move as “the end of an era.” She says the location “meant a lot to a lot of us in town. I spent so much of my teenage years there after school and my own kids have grown up coming for pizza nights and to celebrate sport seasons.”
To reassure customers, New England Pizza’s Facebook page says that “our promise to you is that nothing will change but our location.”