It was 1966 when George Balis first arrived in the United States from Greece with his sights set on achieving his American dream. Eight years later, after working several jobs and putting in countless hours, he purchased a pizza shop in Greenfield, Massachusetts.
By 1976, the rest of his family joined him stateside and helped to make Village Pizza the Greenfield institution that it is today. This year, two of George’s grandchildren organized a block party to not only celebrate the restaurant’s sixty-year anniversary, but also to give back by donating their profits to the Greater Western Mass Foodbank and the Shriners’ Hospital.
Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan bring us the story.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: It was 1966 when George Balis first arrived in the United States from Greece with his sights set on achieving his American dream. Eight years later, after working several jobs and putting in countless hours, he purchased a pizza shop in Greenfield, Massachusetts.
Two years later in 1976, the rest of his family joined him here stateside and helped to make Village Pizza the institution that it is in Greenfield today.
This year, two of George’s grandchildren organized a block party to not only celebrate the restaurant’s 60 year anniversary, but also give back by donating their profits to the greater Western Mass Food Bank and the Shriner’s Hospital.
Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan brings us the story.
Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: It was a rainy and drizzly Sunday in a summer seemingly full of days that looked just like this one. But on this particular Sunday of July 11th, 2021, no amount of moisture falling from the sky was about to dampen the spirits of anyone at the Bank Row Block Party in Greenfield.
This was, after all, a celebration of 60 years for the little pizza shop that could. George Balis and his sister Vicki, the son and daughter of Chris Bayless, who is part owner of Village Pizza, organized this event, bringing in countless local businesses to chip in one way or another.
But, in spite of being a tight-knit community here in the heart of Franklin County, combined with the popularity of the local pizza place that stood the test of time for six decades, it was still an element of surprise to the overall turnout.
George Balis, Village Pizza: I got goosebumps thinking about it. I really do.
You know, I didn’t expect this many people to come, especially this many businesses on a day like today. I would have expected a phone call in the morning saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t make it.”
Brian Sullivan: But they did. And several of those businesses had tents set up for the block party, whether it was the local gym, the farmstand, coffee, and everything in between.
But judging by the number of people waiting for a slice, or even the size of the crowd that surrounded the pizza eating contest, it was clear that Village was the main attraction, with so many in attendance having some kind of special memory about the family-run restaurant.
Ann Foth, Former Greenfield Resident: When he first opened up here 60 years ago, I was one of his customers. They made the best pizzas around that I’ve ever had. And they’re very wonderful people, you know, to deal with, to buy from.
It was just wonderful.
David Kells, Greenfield Resident: This is a place that people just come to and people have been coming to for years. You know, for me, back to — back through middle school and high school and college. And every time you came back from college, the first place you went to on the weekend was Village.
Danny Dennett, Montague Resident: Mid 70s, I went to Alaska for a vacation and decided never to come back. My baby sister Michelle would go to Village Pizza, buy me pizzas, and she would freeze them and send them to me in Alaska.
Brian Sullivan: And if someone is willing to have pizzas mailed to them across the continent, then waiting a few minutes in line is child’s play.
This here is the line for pizza, and I think it really speaks volumes about just how popular Village Pizza is in this town. But this whole event is about a lot more than a 60 year anniversary.
This is a celebration of the American dream, which for people like me who were born in this country and are still chasing it, may still feel elusive. But to talk to Chris Balis, it’s an entirely different story.
Chris Balis, Village Pizza: We are the American dream. You know, my father came here in ’66, worked very hard. He had three full — almost three full time jobs. He worked one hundred and twelve hours a week. Then we followed, came here in ’74 — ’76, I’m sorry, ’76.
And ever since then, we’ve been here working and living the American Dream. It’s what you put in it. You know, the opportunity I think is here for everybody that wants it.
Brian Sullivan: The Balis Family may not be the original 1961 owners, having purchased village in 1974, but the 400-pound mixer? That’s original. As is the scale. And while we’re at it, so is the work ethic that brings this family to the shop every morning at 5:30 to prep and keeps them here all day to make time with their customers.
Now, all of those years of service have culminated in a one day celebration, a chance for father and son to soak in the moment side-by-side, while donating the day’s profits to two worthy causes.
Chris Balis: It means the world to me. It means giving back to the community. I want to thank the people that were part of this place that supported us, the town and the whole country that gave us the opportunity to better our lives.