Community support and a solid work ethic have always been priorities for restaurant owner Stephen Carpentier, but he had never imagined he would be living out his values in a pizzeria.
Hailing from Naples, Italy, Carpentier said he was raised by immigrant parents who instilled in him the values of respecting one’s elders, working for what you have and uplifting your community. He took these values with him to college, where he studied architecture.
Upon graduation, he found job prospects were slim. So he pivoted, deciding to open Stefano’s Pizzeria and Italian Kitchen in 1994 with the intention of handing it off to a protege while he pursued architecture.
However, Carpentier said he found it difficult to find people willing to match his work ethic. When a good employee was found, they were retained and welcomed in like family.
“Ninety-nine percent of our success is because of these guys,” said Carpentier, referring to his loyal staff. “I care about every one of these guys. I pay them well; I loan them a ton of money; I treat them like family. But other places, you’re just a number.”
Today, Stefano’s Pizzeria is a community staple that prides itself on its blend of traditional Italian cuisine and innovative new dishes.
“We started just playing with the recipes and ... just getting it how we liked it,” Carpentier said.
Now, 27 years after opening, the staff continues to experiment, featuring a pulled-pork pizza as their latest menu item. Carpentier said he prefers to focus more on delivery rather than dine-in service so he can put money into quality ingredients and the salaries of his five cooks.
“Our cooks each make $62,000. But they work harder,” Carpentier said. “I show up, and they do their work, no complaints.”
The staff has also held on to their love for the community. During Hurricane Harvey, they kept the shop open, churning out pizzas to give away to those in need.
“We’re always the last to close and the first to open,” Carpentier said. “These people make you rich, so why not give back?”