“Time flies” when you’re making pizzas and growing up in Tillsonburg.
“We all grew up here,” smiled Phuong Tran, who was just graduating from high school when her parents opened Tillson Pizza in 2003.
Eighteen years later, Tillson Pizza moved down the road to 67 Tillson Avenue. On Jan. 11 they held their official re-opening at the newly renovated location.
“We’ve been here on Tillson Avenue for 18 years so our clients don’t have far to go to follow us,” said Phuong. “We’ve kind of been the main pizza place on this road for almost the last 20 years.”
Over the years, 67 Tillson Ave. has been home to other pizzerias including Godfather’s, 10 Buck Pizza and Matteo’s.
“It’s really touching to hear a lot of people come in and tell us their memories of this (location). I’m so proud of my parents to be part of that history going forward.”
When Steve and Le Roi Tran immigrated to Canada, they first lived in Toronto before moving to Tillsonburg in 1992 to raise their children Phuong, Suong, Duong and John.
Steve and Le Roi started Tillson Pizza with the six of them in the family, and the children, who now have full-time careers elsewhere, still pitch in when needed.
“When it comes to Friday nights, it’s all hands on deck,” said Phuong. “Super Bowl weekend… New Year’s Eve… Halloween… you’ll see all four of us children here. People have seen us grow up here.”
It made moving from their old location very emotional – it was almost like their second home.
“It was like an extension of our home,” she nodded.
Other than the new location, which is approximately 290 metres south and on the other side of the street, and a modern, fresh, redecorated look inside, much of Tillson Pizza remains the same. That includes the same friendly owners and part-time staff, same menu, same ovens and equipment, which it took about a week to move from their old location, and of course the same business name.
“The location’s better for us and we had the opportunity to move down here,” said Phuong. “We just thought it was a good move – a good place to come in, clean it up and make it part of our own.”
Tillson Pizza will continue as a takeout and delivery pizzeria. They have added curbside pickup during the pandemic.
The menu includes pizza, panzerotti, wings and a few extras like garlic bread and pizza subs.
“We make our dough fresh every day, our sauce is homemade every day. One of the signature things that my mom does (although you might not see it on the online menu) is she makes homemade spring rolls. She rolls them by hand every couple of days… and they’re a cult favourite. There are people who love them, sometimes that’s all they order.
“We’ve never really needed to expand our menu because we believe that a simple menu – what you consistently do good – has kind of been our trademark. So we’ve actually had the same menu for 18 years. So I would say that’s one of the things that’s made us really successful.
Another ‘secret to success’ is that it’s a family business.
“It’s very much our pride and joy here, and you can see it… hopefully the town sees it in our work. What you do is a reflection of your reputation and you build it from the ground up. Anything that goes wrong, we take accountability for it. If something doesn’t look right, we’ll make it again.
“One of the things that we always kept close to heart is our community. We supported a lot of sports teams and community events. Meals on Wheels and the hospital are close to our hearts.
“I think that’s probably what made us really successful – serving the community, but also knowing that the community supports us so much. To be part of that mosaic of the community, that quilt of the community is just so wonderful.”
Community support has been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
“We’ve seen a lot of support from our customers – especially with the move – the overwhelming happiness. Our customers are really happy with the new place. They love seeing this place renovated and a local business going in.”
Directly across the street from the K-8 Annandale elementary school, student support is expected to continue when protocols allow it.
“It’s hard to tell because during COVID the foot traffic’s not the same that it used to be. We’re still on the same street, just down a block.
“We do have a lot of younger customers who started going to our pizza shop when they were in school, and now they’re coming back. We get people telling us ‘I remember when I was in Grade 2 and I’d come over for a slice… your parents still remember me.’ My mom has an impeccable memory.”
That goes back to striving to be good community citizens, she said. People remember good service.
“We have people who go to university, and when they come home, or come for a visit, they always say ‘let’s grab a (Tillson) pizza,’ because it’s been here for so long and it’s been so consistent. We take pride in that. We’re so honoured that people think of us as part of Tillsonburg.”