Honesty at The Point; get a square deal at Ledo’s Pizza
Good eating brings out the gentle side of people. I guess that’s what they mean by comfort food. Tom Gross, the perpetually effervescent manager of The Point Coffee House & Bake Shoppe, told me that a customer found some money on the floor a few days ago. The guy proceeded to ask if anyone there had lost it, but nobody in the crowded room spoke up. Now, how many of us would have pocketed the funds and chalked it up to serendipity?
Well, he did not. He took the wad of bucks to the register and instructed Tom to buy a doughnut for every child who entered the shop until the money ran out. A young lady vacationing from Virginia became the first recipient of that bounty. The stranger disappeared without telling anybody his name.
Restaurants are woven into the fabric of our lives, and I’ve been enjoying your emails about life, love … and memories of your favorite foods. Several readers reminded me of the original Ledo’s Restaurant in Adelphi, Md., literally within waddling distance of the University of Maryland in College Park, Md. The place was wildly popular with students and families alike.
Ledo’s claim to fame is its square pizza. As an undergraduate, I remember late nights with classmates as I quietly plotted how to scarf up the corner slices. Now we get to relive those memories right here in Rehoboth Beach, and we have entrepreneur Marty McDonnell to thank for it.
Marty grew up in Springfield, Va., and wherever Marty lived, a Ledo’s Pizza franchise followed (or maybe it was the other way around). He even dated a woman who worked for Ledo’s corporate offices. Yielding to what fate obviously had in store for him, Marty decided to bring those four-sided pies to Rehoboth Beach.
All this might never have happened had it not been for Major League Baseball outfielder, manager and coach Jim Lemon. The celebrity lent his name to a new steakhouse near the university, but as his career fizzled, so did the concept. After a few years the place was resurrected as the Fireside Inn, and the owners struck a deal to serve Ledo’s pizza to their customers. The idea caught on.
As a hands-on franchisor, Ledo’s Corporate pitched in during every aspect of launching the Rehoboth facility. They worked closely with Marty to choose the location across from the Midway outlets, purchase equipment, create menus, and decide on advertising strategies. Ledo’s works hand in hand with its franchisees to ensure that the product is exactly what people remember. After 56 years in business, brand recognition (i.e., taste memory!) is all-important.
McDonnell is proud of his dedicated staff. “My employees make me look good,” he maintains, and nothing looks better than an owner who is almost always there. He watches over the day-to-day activities and chats up the customers as their pies move steadily through the oven. He tells me that he’s amazed at how many patrons comment on how his product measures up to the original restaurant. I might be struck by lightning for saying this, but I think Marty’s is better than the original. So there.
It’s a rare U of M student from the ‘60s and ‘70s who doesn’t remember the original Ledo’s. Marty introduced me to Len and Deb, two of his regulars who attribute their long and happy marriage directly to square pizza. Both worked their way through college at the old Ledo’s; Len as a bartender and Deb as a hostess and waitress. The manager at the time had a strict rule against fraternizing among servers and bartenders. Long story short, the couple fraternized themselves right into Deb having to quit her job. All’s well that ends well: They married and stayed close friends with their old boss until his passing several years ago.
When people fall in love, they tend to fall in love not just with one another, but also with the place where they first met. Longtime lovers will display wistful smiles when they recall the restaurants they frequented and the meals they shared. Such is the union of food, love … and memories.