On a rainy Friday morning in April the sidewalk down a commercial strip of Farmington Ave. in West Hartford fills with the sound of the 80s band Flock of Seagulls. The nostalgic beat lures hungry shoppers to Barb’s Pizza for a quick slice. The dining room is a couple steps past the counter, booths along fresh wood walls decorated with Pepsi signs and classic pizza loaders cap off the interior. To the left are the taps and a wine cooler, because you can’t have pizza without a drink. For stone pies the choices are tough: white pies with roasted chicken and broccoli florets, topped with creamy alfredo sauce; or the sciachiatta, another white pie with sausage, baby spinach, and potato drizzled with crushed plum tomatoes; or their BBQ pulled pork pie to name a few of Barb’s specialties. Customers can also build their own pie with a choice of thick or gluten free crust.
Any choice they make is sure to be worthwhile thanks to current owner, Barry Arpaia, and his diligent staff behind the counter. “It’s labor of love.” Arpaia says, “You got to take everything into account. Everything has its purpose. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be here.” Arpaia, clad in a white chef coat and hardworking glow, welcomes customers with a smile. He offers his insight on running a restaurant and what has made him a successful business owner before first pie goes in the oven.
Arpaia served in the U.S. Navy for six years as a chef on board the USS Mckee (AS-41), carrying eighty-one officers and 1,270 sailors. The service influenced his current career. “They teach you to run to fires, not away. Because of that there’s not a challenge I can’t handle. When you’re responsible for 1,270 people and their health. Everything you did had to be done 100 hundred-percent. There was no such thing as mediocrity. Everything had to be the best.” Today Barb’s Pizza bares the slogan, “Simply the best.” Arpaia expects nothing less to be served to each customer.
After the service, Arpaia spent thirty-five years working all different ends in the restaurant business. He’s worked for famous New Haven pizzerias Frank Pepe and Sally’s Pizza. He has been a consultant to other restaurant owners in Connecticut, and builds restaurants as well. He renovated Barb’s current location thoroughly, expanding the dining room and reworking the ventilation ducts for the oven. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Barb’s Pizza is a hit among West Hartford residents.
Everything on Barb’s Menu is made from Arpaia’s recipes. He believes that a restaurant ran by a chef and a team of cooks is always the way to go. “A chef creates, a cook replicates. You got restaurants run by a bunch of cooks and all they know how to do is follow what’s on the card. A chef creates and builds the recipe and passes them to cooks. My menu, my products,” Arpaia says pointing to the menu he’s crafted before gazing around the interior. “Chefs have a lot of creativity.” Barbs Pizza’ menu is made up of what Barry and the customers’ want. Arpaia regularly does market research on what people are craving to cater to customers’ desires.
There are a lot of little things a restaurant owner must understand to run a successful business. “Never say ‘This is great.’ Always look for where you need to improve. Always ask customers if they have any complaints, no compliments.” It’s subtle things like playing the music outside louder before the restaurant opens so that people nearby know where to get a slice, or that the lighting encourages folks to sit down and relax to some 1980s tunes over a pint and slice. It sounds meticulous, but if not for Arpaia’s foresight; customers wouldn’t enjoy Barb’s food and atmosphere.
It takes more than a Culinary Arts degree or a talent for cooking to run a restaurant. Arpaia shows it requires creativity and initiative to be a restaurant owner. Arpaia is confident about the future of Barb’s Pizza. “The future looks bright, we offer authentic products that are always in demand, our market share is one hundred percent. For right now Barb’s can go on for as long as I want.” And Barbs’ dough is rising. This summer Barb’s Pizza will have a second location in Cromwell, and a third location is on the drawing board.
Barbs Pizza is open Monday through Saturday from eleven o’clock in the morning to ten o’clock at night, and located on 968 Farmington Ave, West Hartford, CT. Call or order online next time you got a hankering for pizza.
All Photos Courtesy of Barb’s Pizza.
Dylan Autunno is a staff writer for Blue Muse Magazine.