[EDITOR'S NOTE — Each week, this feature section, “Movers and Makers,” will feature the stories of the movers, launchers, entrepreneurs and makers who contribute to the vitality of the Mahoning Valley. This section is supported by our first community partner, Farmers National Bank.]
YOUNGSTOWN — Local community leaders, musicians and businesses are prepaying for pizza at Westside Bowl so other customers can enjoy free pizza during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Westside Bowl in Youngstown has shifted its day-to-day operations from a bowling alley and music venue to a carryout eatery per Ohio's stay-at-home order. Pre-pandemic, the carryout business had accounted for only 10 percent of the business’ revenue.
Owner Nate Offerdahl said the adjustment has been difficult.
“People congregating in one place is our business model, and that's not legally allowed right now. So I mean, it's definitely been challenging,” he said. “Compared to how we were operating prior to the mandated shutdown, we're operating at somewhere between 15 percent and 20 percent.”
Currently, Westside Bowl has roughly 200 pizzas that are prepaid. Customers can call 330-792-7675 to either place an order and likely get a free cheese pizza or make a donation to pay for another customer’s free pizza.
Individuals just interested in donating can also message Westside Bowl on Facebook and donate through PayPal.
A Youngstown-based band, Rebreather, started the prepaid pizza donations, causing a chain reaction within the community.
“[Rebreather] called me and said, ‘Hey, we're going to stop up and we want to donate 10 pizzas to the next 10 people,' so we made a little video of it posted on Facebook,” he said.
Soon after, donations were made from a variety of Westside Bowl patrons and partners, including Little Blackbird Photo, Westside Vintage, Bareknuckle Tattoo & Barber Shop and Modern Methods Brewing Company.
“It’s keeping us open. It's also allowing us to facilitate the generosity of others, which is a humbling experience,” Offerdahl said.
The promotion includes a cheese pizza with white or red sauce. Toppings can be added for an additional cost, and pizzas are not limited to a certain amount per day.
"We have a lot of pizzas that have been prepaid for,” Offerdahl said. “That's sort of what the [Facebook] posts are for … giving credit to the folks [who] paid for them.”
Business hours have shifted to 4 to 11 p.m. daily, and most employees have been laid off. Westside Bowl planned to celebrate its two-year anniversary in March but had to cancel the celebration to adhere to the statewide stay-at-home order.
Offerdahl said canceling the anniversary celebration was “soul-crushing,” but he found a silver lining within support from the community.
“[Westside Bowl] has fostered into a very community-centered sort of business. You know, we have a very active and loyal group of folks who come here on a regular basis. A lot of whom have become friends over the span of the two years that we've been open, and it's giving them a chance to sort of stay connected in a strange sort of way,” he said.
The community’s generosity during the COVID-19 pandemic has made Offedahl proud to be from Youngstown.
“Youngstown is a tough town, and we’ve been through tough times before. I know that we’re going to come out the back end of this a better place,” he said.