The family behind Village Pizza passes the reins of the business to a new owner

STERLING – It’s the end of an era for Arthur and Gianna Angelis and their extended family, who are passing the torch of their multi-generational family business Village Pizza & More to one of their trusted employees and fellow restaurateur, Nabil Behkit.

“In closing this chapter of our lives, we just want to say thank you,” said Gianna Angelis. “Thank you to the generous people of Sterling for always supporting my parents and then Arthur and me. Thank you for your patience and understanding when things were chaotic and thank you for trusting and supporting us through difficult times like COVID .”

Behkit, who goes by ‘Bil’, said so far “it’s been great” to take the helm.

“I love this city so much,” he says.

Shown at Sterling's Village Pizza are (left to right) new owner Nabil 'Bil' Behkit's father, Fekry Abdelmalak, Village Pizza staff member Jackie Damon, original owners Thomas and Alexandra Andreou, Vasilia Angelis, Sophia Andreou, Alexandra Angelis, Gianna Angelis, Tommy Angelis, Arthur Angelis and new owner Nabil 'Bil' Behkit.

The couples last official day was February 17, and since they knew the day was coming in advance, they started telling guests about a week before they were leaving.

“Arthur and I were both okay with telling people and not just hanging out,” Gianna Angelis said. “We said from the start that the town of Sterling treated us like family and you don’t just leave family. In the same breath, we wanted to introduce Nabil and give him the chance to meet everyone.

The family has been feeding the region for more than 35 years, ever since Gianna’s parents, Thomas and Alexandra Andreou, both immigrants from Greece, opened the store at 239 Worcester Road in 1986. Over the years, the business has attracted quite a loyal clientele. , partly because of the delicious food and because it’s the kind of place where you’re greeted by name when you walk through the door.

“It’s like Cheers,” Gianna Angelis joked late last month when the whole family clan, including her and her husband’s three children, her parents and her sister, Sophia Andreou, gathered at the store with Behkit, his father and store staff members. .

“After 35 years, it broke my heart a bit,” said Thomas Andreou as he watched the family business evolve. “But Bil is very nice and he will keep the same quality that customers appreciate.”

Methuen resident Behkit is no stranger to the food industry, having owned Zedas Pizza in Athol for over a year and he has many years of restaurant experience. He started working at Village Pizza last October and said he was delighted to have the opportunity to expand his business activities.

“I saw the environment and the people there, it’s a great community,” Behkit said of the inspiration that led him to take over the business.

Thomas Andreou said Behkit proved his dedication to the business when he came on his Monday, his day off, to learn how to make the homemade Greek dressing that customers love, a secret recipe that has been passed down through the family. .

“He got it and he nailed it,” said Thomas Andreou.

The Andreous live in West Boylston.

“I told him we were five minutes away if you need anything,” said Alexandra Andreou.

Sophia Andreou said she knew the business would be “in good hands”.

“We have confidence in him, we are sure he is going to do a good job,” she said of Behkit.

As if to prove his point, while their family was there, Behkit ran to the door and banged on the window of a truck to give a customer the extra pickles he had ordered and had forgotten. to put in the carry bag.

Gianna and Arthur Angelis

Gianna and Arthur Angelis took over the multi-generational business in 2020. She said making the decision to sell Village Pizza was not easy, a decision they were both anguished about. But when it happened, the decision was based on their children and the quality of their family life.

“Arthur and I never planned to be here for the 35+ years my parents had,” Gianna Angelis said. “In fact, they asked us to promise that we wouldn’t. Long days tire you mentally and physically. But we adopted a plan with five-year increases. ‘Let’s do five and see how it goes’ was our thought. My mom had mixed feelings about our specific takeover and she continually said she wanted the store to stay in the family. “Gianna, you have three children. Don’t make the same mistakes I did.

“She was amazing, though. My parents and my sister watched the kids all the time and on Sundays the kids would visit my in-laws and stay with them until I got home,” Gianna said. .

The breaking point and “toughest conversation” they had regarding the company happened last summer. They had closed the shop for two weeks and had planned to go down to Cape Town for the start of their vacation.

“We saw how excited the kids were to finally go on vacation and feel like kids again,” Gianna Angelis said. “Luckily we found out we were close contacts and then I tested positive for COVID. Our vacation was spent with masks inside the house and we ended up closing the store for a week extra to keep everyone safe.

“Here we were on vacation, scheduled time to spend with our children without interruption, and we were stuck inside,” she continued. “Arthur and I kept shaking our heads. Meanwhile, I overheard the girls say it wasn’t fair that the only time we got to spend together, we were all stuck inside with me trying to get better and then trying to stay safe. And they were right. Before we reopened, Arthur and I discussed our future at the Village.

Ready to sell

She said Bekhit approached them after hearing they might be interested in selling and the rest is history.

“We only talked to a few people about it because we didn’t want to get in the way and it was very important to find the right person,” recalls Gianna Angelis. “We offered him the opportunity to come and see the store in action, but after talking with Arthur and hearing about the history of the pizzeria and the community, he was ready to step in. I worked with Nabil on weekend, and he always had a smile on his face and a loud laugh. You can’t help but laugh with him. I really think he’s a perfect fit for the city.

She said that since Bekhit took over the property, they have been “lucky” to spend the February school holidays with their children.

“We went on a few day trips and just enjoyed each other’s presence,” Gianna Angelis said of the quality family time they spent together.

As for their plans for the future, both in terms of career and family, Gianna said that for now they are just enjoying the start of their new chapter.

“We don’t have a back-up plan for the job,” she said. “We are both actively searching and will try to put our degrees to good use.”

Arthur Angelis added that his wife “has several degrees” including a master’s degree in criminal justice and an associate’s degree in dental hygiene and that he has a degree in economics.

“Ideally, we’ll get 9-to-5 jobs that allow us to have dinner with our family and weekends off,” he said.

Part of the community

The family and the pizzeria are very popular in the region and especially by those who live in the city. A Feb. 21 post on the Sterling MA Community Page Facebook page by local customer Lisa Packard garnered more than 100 comments and reactions.

Packard wrote that she was “sorry to see Arthur and Gianna Angelis of Village Pizza selling the long-time family business. However, much success to the new owners.” Many others have followed suit.

People wrote encouraging comments, wishing the family and new owner the best, and many mentioned that they hoped to keep the same recipes, including the Greek dressing. Heather Peck-Ouellette said she and her family are weekly customers of the Village, the first takeout they ordered when they moved to town five years ago.

“We were blessed to have them as part of our Sterling tapestry,” she commented on the post. “I hate to see them go, and hope they teach the new owners how to make their hamburger pizza, but they deserve a great retirement. Great people.

Longtime residents of Sterling, Tim and Kara Plouffe, a police officer and kindergarten teacher from Houghton, commented: “You will be missed by the Plouffe family. Enjoy your children and best wishes! Thank you for all your years at Sterling. Tim & Kara Plouffe and all our children you have fed many nights.

The couple grew up in town and said they have been customers of Village Pizza since he was there, with Tim Plouffe cycling downtown and ordering a small meatball sub and milk at the chocolate in primary school.

“They have been very generous and have provided such great support to the police department over the years,” they said. “They are wonderful and friendly people. They always ask us about our children, and we will miss them very much, but they so deserve to spend time with their family.

Gianna Angelis also chimed in to comment on the post after several people questioned whether the news was true, saying they were “trying to tell as many customers as possible as soon as we were sure”.

“Arthur and I have made the very difficult decision to sell the business,” she wrote. “As many know, owning your business comes with many sacrifices which we were aware of, but our children needed us more and we simply couldn’t let the years pass by letting them serve us. We spoke to my parents and we have their blessing too. It is time for them to truly retire now.

“Bil came to us, adored our wonderful customers whom we introduced as friends and extended family and slowly learned the ropes. He comes with the experience of having owned his own pizzeria in the past and he also brought his family. He knows we are only a phone call away if he has any questions. You are all in good hands. We have no doubt that he will earn your love and respect and that you will continue your friendship with him and his family. To all our friends, contact us here on Facebook and we would love to keep in touch.

She said she recently met “a dear client” on her way to a date and they chatted for a minute.

“She said ‘thank you for everything,'” Gianna Angelis said. “I corrected her and said ‘No, thank you. Without all of your support, we would never have gotten through all these years. So thank you Sterling. Until we meet again.

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