Pizza: a Staple of the Community

Artwork by Jane Schwadron.

Unfortunately, DHOP is temporarily closed in the interest of slowing the spread of Coronavirus. This article was written in February for Issue 3 of Mouth of the River and appears as it would have in the magazine.

If you grew up in Durham, you’ve probably grown up eating pizza from DHOP, or Durham House of Pizza.

A lot has changed in Durham since Steve Petrovitsis opened the restaurant in 1976; UNH has grown and local businesses have come and gone, but DHOP, with the exception of the moves from the Durham Town Plaza to the back building where The Makery now is, and finally to its current home on Main Street, has stayed. The pizza place has grown to be a beloved staple in the community, bringing all its members together around good food. About five years ago, Steve passed the business along to two of his sons, John and Justin, who are both Oyster River High School alum. Even after passing the baton, Steve continues to work at DHOP. 

Steve said of DHOP’s beginnings, “I started this business when I was nineteen and I thought at the time [pizza] would be the best thing to do. We own the building and we just decided ‘let’s do a pizza place,’ and that worked out well.”

Steve said it’s become a solid business that works for both the students and the town’s residents. “We have a positive flow of people. The students like it; they’ve been coming here for years,” he said.

Jack Poitras (‘22) has lived in Oyster River since he was two years old and has been a DHOP regular for almost as long. He said, “it’s one of the meeting spots; it’s right in the heart of downtown. If you want to get a quick bite to eat it’s ‘do you want to go to DHOP?’ It’s the first thing out of your mouth.”

Poitras continued to say, “if there’s anything in downtown Durham that’s a staple, it’s DHOP. Most of the restaurants in downtown Durham stick around for about three or four years and then they go out of business.”

Poitras said of DHOP’s long term success, “it’s a pretty simple equation. It’s college students plus some locals and they get a lot of business during the college season, and their real income is supplemented by us – the families that live around here – but it’s mostly the college town that helps them survive.”

Jordan Petrovitsis is the youngest of the brothers. He works part-time at DHOP to help his parents and brother manage the business while attending the University of New England. He said, “students are definitely very big contributors. It’s kind of night and day, business from the summer compared to the winter when the students are around.”

John agreed with this sentiment, “Obviously when students are in town there’s 18,000 more people in town. Definitely business goes up then.” He continued to say that it’s also important to have the support of the town because while the students are here most of the year, there are months where they’re not.

Sarah Grandy is the owner of the Main Street Makery, a neighboring business to DHOP. She explained that thriving in Durham is about knowing your full audience and catering to the town as well as UNH. “I think the balance is acknowledging the local, year-round population as well and knowing that you kind of have to have both,” she said.

As the community has been loyal to DHOP, Steve has done what he can to help out the community.  “Whatever their needs are, we’ll be there to help them out,” Steve said. 

“We definitely work with the Oyster River hockey program a lot. We went to Oyster River, [Jordan and I] were both on the hockey team so we have personal involvement there. We donate with some other charities, like Marina’s Mile, they do the Sarno Summer Classic, different things they have going around with 5Ks, we’ll do stuff with UNH, there’s the Bobcat Bolt. We just get asked a lot for different things and we’ll do what we can,” said John.

Similarly, Steve said Durham has a strong business community. He said of DHOP’s relationship with other businesses, “as we help them, they help us.” He attributed their relationship with the other businesses to the difficulties that come with doing business in a university town. “We know it’s not an easy town to do business in; we have summers that are slow, we have Christmas break, spring break, all the holidays, so you basically have seven and a half months to do business in.”

Grandy agreed that UNH makes Durham tough for businesses and that the business community is very supportive. Grandy said, “the university dictates a lot of our activity around here. I would generally say the long-established businesses are very supportive of new businesses and they would like to see us all survive and thrive.” She said they’re often more than happy to give advice and help out in small ways. 

Grandy gave an example of one way DHOP has helped to support The Makery. “If I’m ever needing to advertise something, like an event that’s coming up, if I print something off they’ll put it on their pizza boxes […] It’s a small thing, it doesn’t cost them anything, maybe a little bit of energy to put it on there, but I think that’s a good, supportive, collaborative effort.”

Steve said the employees, like the business owners, are a tight-knit community. “I have employees coming back that worked for me 30 years ago, just to come in and say hi. I’d consider it like a second family,” he said.

Joey Fogg (‘22) works at DHOP. He found that it felt less like a job because the other employees are friendly. He spoke similarly about the owners, “John and Justin are both really good guys […] They’re not like a boss to us; it’s really more like a friend.”

DHOP, through good food and generosity, has become a pillar of the Oyster River community; now they’re reaping the benefits. Jordan said, “in the end it’s really rewarding, being able to work your butt off, try to put out the best quality of food that you can. It really pays itself off once you see the smiles on people’s faces.”