Following two-month shutdown, Varsity Pizza starting to thrive again

Despite brief shutdown, Varsity manages to thrive

The legendary campus restaurant is seeing an influx of loyal customers and returning SU students.
Published: September 4, 2020
A masked man walks out of varsity pizza
Costumers eat lunch at outdoor tables in front of Varsity Pizza on Thursday.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic threatening thousands of small restaurants across New York State, Varsity Pizza is finding ways to thrive.

The Syracuse University student favorite pizza shop that has occupied 802 S. Crouse Ave., for 94 years was forced to shut down in March as the state looked to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Two months later in late May, Varsity was able to reopen for curbside service, which proved to be an involved process because it required readjusting the staff’s normal workflow.

“It was tough for us trying to keep track,” Varsity employee Eric Ockert said, “but we adapted.”

Although the restaurant applied for federal aid, they never received the federal funds that many companies have used to offset losses while closed or limiting services. Between the need to cut back hours and several employees making more through unemployment than they would work, Ockert said the reopening required several sacrifices.

As soon as curbside service reopened, the staff was pleasantly surprised by the first lunch rush and support of regular customers. Very few people have given the staff trouble over the mask requirements, and Ockert said they have had to refuse service to only a handful of customers.

“I don’t think anybody is really comfortable with a mask on all the time,” Ockert said, adding that he is surprised at how cooperative most people have been.

With SU classes starting on Aug. 24, students also seem eager to return to the University Hill icon, which has boosted Varsity’s breakfast and lunch rushes. Ockert said dinner service remains “quite a bit slower” as the restaurant seems stifled by the popularity of food delivery apps among students.

“Varsity is great, but if I’m not on campus and it’s late, I’m probably getting Dominos,” VPA senior Clayton Horowitz said.

Ockert knows students would prefer Varsity to be open later at night, however, is closing at 8 p.m. instead of its normal 9 p.m.

Ockert said that with phase four of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s reopening plan in effect and with indoor dining reopening, Varsity is aiming to return to their normal hours of operation soon.