A slice of heaven

There is no Billy behind Billy’s Famous Pizza. But there is Anesti and Loui, and, according to readers, they make the best pizza in town.

Billy’s, owned and operated for 11 years by Anesti and Loui Kalampalikis, was voted Merrimack’s best pizza by a wide margin last month in a Merrimack Journal readers poll. The restaurant, which sits in the Skyline strip mall on the Daniel Webster Highway, beat all other contenders by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, collecting 58 of the 121 total votes.

“It’s such an honor,” Anesti Kalampalikis said Monday, referring to the poll results. “We work hard to keep our customers happy. We’ve been making pizza for a long time.”

The Kalampalikises, who bought the restaurant in 2000 from Bill Kesaris, have been perfecting their craft for more than 35 years.

The two brothers first started honing their kitchen skills as teenagers in the 1970s, working in restaurants in their native Greece. And, in 1978, they followed family members across the Atlantic, settling in New Hampshire’s lakes region where they opened the Bristol House of Pizza.

For the next two decades, the two worked their magic, serving authentic Greek-style

pizza to seasonal residents and vacationers alike on the shores of Newfound Lake. But, after 20 years, the seasonal nature of the area proved too challenging, and the brothers sold the Bristol restaurant in 1998, setting their sights south.

Around the same time, Kesaris, an industry friend who opened Billy’s Famous Pizza in 1998, had fallen ill and was looking for a buyer to help him out of his Merrimack pizza shop.

It was a perfect match.

“He couldn’t run the place, so he asked me if I knew somebody to buy the place,” Anesti Kalampalikis said. “We’ve been here ever since.”

The brothers’ recipe for success hasn’t changed much in the years since.

They still use fresh vegetables and homemade dough to go along with their all-natural tomato sauce. “They use the freshest ingredients and serve it with a smile,” Pat Fuller, a town resident wrote in an e-mail to the Journal.

And the Kalampalikises stay true to their Greek tradition, cooking the pizzas using a pan rather than putting the pies directly onto the stove.

“It keeps the (crust) strong,” Anesti said. “It’s a lot tastier, a lot more flavorful.”

It’s not just the brothers’ recipes, however, that make their pizza shop Merrimack’s best, customers said. It’s also the hospitality and joy that the Kalampalikises and their staff bring to their work.

The brothers employ a tight knit staff of nine, including Anesti’s teenage son and daughter, and they all make sure to know the names and favorites of many of their loyal customers.

They avoid using high gluten flour in their dough to cater to customers’ dietary needs, and they work to greet each customer as they enter the store, welcoming them like family.

“The minute we walk in the door, everyone turns around and says ‘Hello, Jonathan,’” said Robin Abbott, a town resident who brings her 19-year-old son in nearly every Friday.

“If you could just see his smile …,” Abbott said of her son, who is diagnosed with autism. “You can absolutely tell … they really do care about their customers. To them, you’re not just a customer. You’re a person.”

As the business has grown, along with the menu over the years, the Kalampalikis brothers have considered expanding, adding a second location. But, in the end, they are unwilling to sacrifice the restaurant’s intimate feel and personal connection, Anesti said.

“We think of ourselves as little pizza boutique,” he said. “We don’t want to get to other side, mass production. We want it to be a family-like atmosphere. Our customers are like family.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com.

A slice of heaven

HOLLIS- Ladies and gentlemen, the votes are in, and the winner for best pizza in Hollis and Brookline is Monument Square Market in Hollis.

The pizzeria and deli, located opposite the town common and owned and operated by the Tripaldi family, won by a landslide: Of 187 votes cast for four pizzerias, two in Hollis and two in Brookline, Monument Square took 121.

“We have awesome customers with great loyalty, and I can’t thank them enough,” said Mike Tripaldi, who shares the day-to-day responsibilities of running the business with his parents, Pete and Martha.

The family opened the pizzeria, deli and market nine years ago, after searching for locations between Concord and Cape Cod.

“We had a Papa Gino’s franchise in Milford and learned the pizza business,” said Mike, who was still in school when his parents opened the franchise. “When I graduated, my father looked at me and said, ‘What do you want to do?’”

A business major and athlete at the University of Connecticut, Mike said he welcomed the opportunity to open a business with his parents.

“We stumbled upon this cute little place in Hollis,” he said, recalling how the family first considered a sandwich shop franchise and eventually decided to “go independent, do it ourselves.”

The Tripaldis didn’t have a secret family pizza recipe, or any family traditions that revolved around pizza.

“What’s kind of funny is we weren’t the family that went out on Friday nights and had pizza,” Mike said.

Instead, it was the dream of owning their own business that propelled them.

“My father grew up always wanting his own business, but he worked in high tech,” Mike said. “We wanted to go into business and we brainstormed, searched everything from gas stations to flower shops.”

When they opened Monument Square Market in a small, dark, former general store with uneven floors and a long history, the Tripaldis began experimenting with pizza sauce and dough recipes. Their goal was to produce a quality product that pleased their customers.

“Every day you put your heart and soul into it,” Mike said.

That formula has worked, but it’s also motivated the business owners to try new recipes and expand their inventory on the shelves and in the refrigerator cases, including the selection of beers. And the learning never stops.

“My father is focused,” said the son. “I was in school for five years and I’ve learned 10 times more from him.”

Father, mother and son complement each other, Mike continued. While his father brings years of experience from the corporate world, his mother’s expertise is bookkeeping. The youngest member of the family keeps his eye on the future, employing social media like Facebook and using other technology to get the word out.

“It’s never finished. We’re always putting it together,” Mike said. “We all listen to each other.”

You might expect menu development at a restaurant appreciated for its creatively named pizzas and sandwiches to be a serious process. But Mike said the ideas just come to him, and his parents.

Recently, for example, the restaurateurs began making a deep-dish pizza, an alternative to its traditional, thin-crust Italian-style pizza. They’re now working on another idea for an upscale pizza that uses Boar’s Head meats. And for Super Bowl parties, they plan to offer a deep-dish chili pizza.

The first year the family was in business it didn’t change the old restaurant interior. And even after they decided to update the space, they left some parts unchanged.

“It still has charm, the uneven floor,” Pete said.

But atmosphere isn’t everything. What’s as important as the quality and consistency of products is the relationship between the business and the community.

“After eight years here, we have our clientele, like middle school students who grow up and come back,” Pete said.

And some customers travel from a distance for the pizza and sandwiches.

“We still keep an edge a little bit. When we’re real busy, we get the deli attitude, but people learn the flow,” Pete said.

Customers know it’s all in fun. And they’re generally happy when they leave the shop.

“We’ve made a place they want to come to, and we appreciate their vote,” Pete said.

Monument Square Market is located at 4 Monument Square, 465-7111. The business specializes in Italian-style, thin crust pizza and pricing ranges from $9 to $17.50. The large pizza is 18 inches, and the specialty pie is the Mediterranean, with eggplant, artichokes, black olives, tomato chunks and cheese on thin crust.

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 24, or hbernstein@cabinet.com.