You wouldn’t think this would be a good time to open a restaurant given the global viral pandemic that has shuttered restaurants across the world and even now has many of them, including those in Durango, down to 50% seating capacity.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has not scared Mark Anderson away from his plans to open Happy Pappy’s Pizza-N-Wings at 2411 Main Ave., the space formerly occupied by Three Peaks Deli & Grill, on Aug. 26.
“We’re going to be across from the high school selling pizza. Have you ever heard of a high school kid who doesn’t eat pizza?” asked Anderson, who has been working for more than two months to renovate the space.
The patio at the restaurant has been expanded by 15 seats, and a privacy fence built in the back. Benches for outdoor seating have been added around the perimeter of the building to accommodate high school students.
Despite the difficult situation placed on restaurants as they deal with the challenges brought on by the novel coronavirus, Anderson said several factors beyond offering pizza across from Durango High School all led him to continue with plans to open Pappy’s after he signed a lease for the building just as the virus was making headlines.
The biggest factor is that his youngest son, Henry, will be a freshman at DHS next year, and Anderson said Pappy’s is a family affair – the family having opened several pizza restaurants in Georgia and South Carolina over the years.
“Henry can cross the street after school and help out,” he said.
Ally, Anderson’s middle daughter, is helping design and remodel the dining room.
Anderson also wanted to cut down on his traveling – he was getting on an airplane every two weeks to help the family open pizzerias in Georgia and South Carolina – and he was looking for a business in Durango that would eliminate his need to do so.
The solution was to take the knowledge from the family’s 20-year history operating pizzerias and open a restaurant here.
The dough recipe at Pappy’s will give away the family’s Southern roots.
“It’s a second-generation recipe. It has a little more sugar in it. We’re from Georgia and we like our sugar,” he said. Pappy’s also plans to have a University of Georgia football night on Saturdays.
Pizza and wings are natural takeout meals, and that too helped convince Anderson to go forward with Happy Pappy’s even after COVID-19 began pressuring restaurants’ bottom lines.
Anderson aims to provide pizza with high-quality meats and cheeses in the middle of the price range among Durango’s pizzerias.
“We aren’t going to be the cheapest place for pizza, but we’re not going to be the most expensive either,” he said.
Pappy’s will feature a self-pour tap well with six beers, three Ska beers and three national brands. It will also include a tap for red wine and one for a hard seltzer.
The soda fountain will be provided by Zuberfizz to enhance the local feel.
The business plans to be open Tuesday through Saturday, with hours yet to be determined.
While DHS will start the year as a closed campus, not permitting students to leave for lunch, the measure has been adopted only this year in response to COVID-19. Anderson expects the traditional open-campus model will return when pandemic subsides.
He plans to offer pizza by the slice and well as full pies. A lunch special of two slices of pizza and a Zuberfizz fountain drink for $6 will be aimed at high school students.
The restaurant will also offer chicken wings and, for dessert, cookies and a dessert stromboli.
As he worked to open Pappy’s, Anderson said, he was frequently reminded of why he moved to Durango five years ago from Hilliard, Florida, which is northwest of Jacksonville.
The family had taken an RV trip across the country the year before moving and had stumbled on Durango.
“I asked the family where do you want to move? We decided what about that little town, Durango. We’d try it for a year, after six months we said we never want to go back,” Anderson said.
The small town vibe, the mountains and the friendliness of the residents all put Durango on the top of the list when the family moved.
When Anderson began preparing to open Pappy’s, he said he got help from Todd Gibson, co-owner of Derailed Pour House; Ed Kileen, co-owner of Grassburger; Joe Lloyd, owner of Durango Joes Coffee; and Carly Van Hof Thomson, business operations manager at Zia Taqueria.
“Carly’s like, ‘Here’s where you can go to get these cups,’” he said. “Everyone has gone out of their way to help me. They don’t see me only as a competitor but as a friend. That’s the kind of town Durango is. Six months after we moved here, we said we’re never going back to Jacksonville.”