While any supermarket shopper might feel only a bit squeezed by the rising costs of canned tomatoes, flour and cheese, pizzerias are losing serious dough in these hard times.
For Vincent Prestigiacomo, who owns in the Kohl's Shopping Center in Rocky Point, it's a daily struggle.
"A product like mozzarella has gone up $1.50 per pound in the last few years," Prestigiacomo said. "That affects the cost of a slice. If we absorb the increase we lose, if we charge too much we lose, so we keep the price at $2.25; we just can't have the same profit margin."
Add on the consistently rising costs of tomatoes and flour year over year, and pizza makers are in deep.
For the shop owner who grew up in the family's pizzeria business and said he was waiting tables at five years old, the new economy has changed how he interprets The American Dream, which before the recent recession could be defined as: If you work more, you make more money.
"Between 1950 and 1983 a self-employed man worked extra hours, extra days and you could buy your kids a swing set or something extra for the family … now you can just make the mortgage," Prestigiacomo said. "In the last five years I've watched my annual income drop every year. We work 70 hours … a week."
Thankfully, improvements at Pompei’s location have helped. When Prestigiacomo opened Pompei in 2004 it was located in a dilapidated strip mall that featured a parking lot that was dotted with potholes.
"I asked my business broker to find me a pizzeria that was run down, old and outdated," he said.
Today the store is flanked by big-box anchors and and is in the same center as new additions such as Petco and Ace Hardware. The parking lot has long been repaired and the entire shopping center just got a face-lift. Being in such a high-traffic shopping center has kept people coming in.
But it’s not just the pricey ingredients that have put Prestigiacomo in a bind. His distributors are also passing on their own increased costs to the shop owner.
Gary Patanjo, who owns a local soda distributors route from Mt. Sinai to Shoreham, stocks the beverage case at Pompei. He said he has been squeezed by the price of gas as well as the price of plastic, another petroleum product.
"It's a domino effect," he said.
The pressures have also hit Prestigiacomo at home, where long days can interfere with long-held family traditions.
"We have forgotten the significance of sitting down at a table and having dinner together," he said, adding that rushed schedules, and preoccupations with the day-to-day tasks held by his family members has stifled family discourse.
"Yes, the meal is good, but why does Susie have a long face? How did you do on that test?” he said. “Children that get that guidance know they are loved."
This story is part of Patch's nationwide series " Tell us what issues and what local stories go to the heart of your American Dream. Please contact editor Rich Arleo at firstname.lastname@example.org