April 4, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

Business profile - Whitt's Pizza a 33-year tradition

By By Jennifer [email protected]

Editor's note: This is part of an ongoing series of stories about the businesses of Hope. To have your business featured, e-mail [email protected].

Business: Whitt's Pizza, 407 Washington St., Hope.

Owners: Joe and Janice Whittington

Established: 1983

Did someone say stone-baked pizza? For more than 30 years, Whitt's Pizza has been the go-to place for homemade, stone-baked pizza. Whitt's co-owner, Janice Whittington, recently spoke about what it is that makes Whitt's such a well-known staple of the Hope community.

What is the story behind your business' unique hours?

Joe's parents, Dick and Shirley Whittington, opened the pizza place in 1983 as empty nesters shortly after Joe, their youngest child, went away to college. Dick began closing the business in October when they'd leave for Florida. Then they'd open back up in April when they came home. About 10 years ago, Dick was going to close the business completely. Everyone in the family had had an opportunity to work there. My kids, Wesley and Wyatt were 12 and 9 years old at the time, and they grew up on Whitt's pizza. They suggested we take it over. That was in 2006. So we did and we kept the same hours. We thought about it and wondered why we were keeping the same hours since the kids were in school. We thought, 'Why don't we keep it open all winter and close down during the summer?'" About two years later we decided to do that.

So what is your "season"?

We open the weekend after Heritage Days and are open through the end of the school year - so until Memorial Day weekend.

How have your hours been received by Hope residents?

My father-in-law was a marketing genius. When he started closing it down, that created a demand for the next season and it has stayed like that.

What are your hours when you're open?

Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m.

So what is your traffic like during those three hours?

When we open that first weekend in October, we've had up to a two-hour wait for pizza.

What makes for such high demand?

I would say, just the consistency. That is one thing we've always heard. You get the same pizza every time. The taste is there and it's always made the same. My husband is a perfectionist and my now 21-year-old son, Wesley, is too.

For those who have never had your pizza how would you describe it?

It's a homemade pizza. Everyone looks for a good pizza and it's the hole-in-the-wall places where you usually get something that is made with care like you would make it for yourself.

What are your most popular menu items?

Usually the large deluxe, which is on a 14 inch - the largest - crust. With all the ingredients we put on it the deluxe weighs more than five pounds. And then the normal is the sausage and pepperoni.

Describe the oven you use and what it is about it that gives your food that distinct Whitt's flavor.

The oven is over 35 years old. It is about four by five or six feet and contains two large stones. The pizzas are cooked on the stones inside the oven. We pull them out and flip them when they're cleaned. It's such an old oven it's difficult to get information about it anymore. We've found one other one... in Idaho.

How do you meet demand in the off season?

We get a lot of people who pre-order and freeze them for the summer. We've seen a good couple dozen people who will order 5-10 pizzas. They'll pick them up the last weekend of our season. We do sandwiches, too. The people like our Stromboli and they can pre-order those, too.

What do you attribute to the success of Whitt's for more than three decades?

Word of mouth is how our business has grown. That and people know all of us in the everyday from Whitt's. We see people in around town or in Columbus and they say, "Oh, I know you from Whitt's!"

It seems Whitt's has quite the following. Would it be fair to say you have people coming to see you from all around?

We have people who used to live in Hope who have moved and come back just for our pizza. We have people who come from Nashville, Franklin, etc... We even have one couple who lives in China and have taken our pizza back with them.

What do you enjoy most about the business?

The people. We have many regulars. Like someone will call in and say, "Hey this is so and so and I want my regular..." and we already know who it is and what they want because it has become that much of a family.

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