AMESBURY — Cole Ciprari was ready to enter the family business when he bought Naples Pizzeria on Elm Street in March 2020. That’s when life started throwing him curve balls.
Ciprari, 37, grew up in Newburyport and worked at his parents’ pizza place, Lennie’s, on Titcomb Street and was eventually in a position to buy his own pizzeria with his wife, Jessica, when he saw that Naples Pizzeria was for sale. He jumped at the chance.
Ciprari and his wife were delighted to be in business for themselves when they finalized the purchase of Naples on March 1, 2020, but a trio of serious challenges suddenly emerged.
Ciprari, a father of two, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on March 2; the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered doors across the country by mid-March; and the state’s $11.4 million Elm Street reconstruction project began in late March, turning the main thoroughfare into a one-way street punctuated by ever-evolving detours.
“I wasn’t aware of this one-way detour that was on the way when we closed,” Ciprari said. “I’m sure the bank probably would have wanted to know about it, too. Our revenue went down about 25% when it started up.”
Ciprari contacted the owner of Auto Plus car dealership, Bill White, and made him an offer on his place at 2 Macy St. (Route 110).
“Bill was a customer of ours,” Ciprari said. “We weren’t seeing any reprieve coming in that road construction so I sat down with him and we worked something out.”
Ciprari closed on the Elm Street location and moved to the more centrally located corner of Main Street and Route 110. Things started looking up at that point.
“We’ve always been a quick-serve, value-priced, consistent option for people,” Ciprari said. “We only had three booths over on Elm Street so now, we have six outside picnic tables and we are crushing it on delivery. We’re not going with GrubHub or DoorDash or anything like that. We don’t need it. With this location, we can tap into Salisbury and Merrimac, too.”
Naples employs 28 people, 25 of whom are either recent Amesbury High School graduates or still in high school.
“We have got four to five drivers on any given day, three to four front-end staff, three people on subs and three people on pizzas,” Ciprari said. “It’s a little hard to juggle when sports come around so we need to cycle people around and make sure they’re not all playing the same sport at the same time.”
Pizza maker Joseph Tilton just graduated from Amesbury High and was recently promoted to manager at Naples.
“He didn’t know what a red onion was a year ago. Now, I think that he can make a pizza better and faster than me,” Ciprari said. “But don’t tell him that.”
Tilton claims he could put together the average pizza in roughly a minute but something like a meat lover’s pizza or a deluxe might take a bit longer.
“Some people order the everything pizza,” he said. “But I don’t know if that is just coming from people who want that or are going through the website and clicking on every option along the way.”
He said working at Naples has been a good experience.
“It’s great,” Tilton said. “I like everyone I work with and I have learned a lot. I have learned how to communicate better with other people and work as a team, especially in the kitchen. You really have to work as a team in a kitchen, especially when it gets busy.”
Ciprari has also been undergoing chemotherapy and said Friday that he had good news.
“I am cancer free and in full remission,” he said. “And I still have all of my hair.”
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.