George

There are many people that I’ve learned important lessons from in life, but I think George was probably the first. He’s my best friend’s dad, and he and his family have run a tiny pizza shop since they first immigrated to the US from Greece in 1978.

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The shop itself is called Mike’s Pizza Palace, named after George’s brother. Mike retired a few years ago, but George still soldiers on. He takes something like four days off for the major holidays each year, but otherwise works seven days a week, and has done that for nearly forty years.

By all measures, this is somewhat ridiculous. To work from 8am to 10pm day in and day out, for decades and decades, it’s a life that few would ever want to live. But there is also something deeply inspiring about it: That this small family has kept the doors of their shop open and their business afloat throughout nearly every change you can imagine in the world, but inside it has always remained a fixed point in time.

The picture above is from the 1980s. If you walked into the place today, you’d see roughly the same thing as what you see in the picture above–with only modest updates to the decor. It’s like walking into a time warp to go into this place.

I spent so much time hanging out here when I was young. I thought I was just keeping my friend company while his mom and dad worked, getting an endless amount of free pizza in exchange for putting together some pizza boxes once in a while. But what I really was getting was three critical life lessons that truly helped shape who I am today:

  1. A business doesn’t need to be fancy or exciting to be successful. In fact, simple businesses are powerful because they can be boiled down to a science–you just need to be selling something people want and doing a great job at it.
  2.  The idea of a small family running their own business so that they could provide for their own kids, bootstrapping from basically nothing, is something working class people can do. It’s not just reserved for those with boatloads of opportunity in life or a deck stacked in their favor.
  3. Nobody works more than George. Nobody!!!

That last point is the one that I think has stuck with me the most. I always joke with my friend about this and I think he probably just thinks it’s just banter over beers. Because I start talking about “Oh, I’ve been working a ton lately. I’m feeling like I’m turning into your dad.”–and at first I say that in this sort of complaining way.

But then I always catch myself and talk about how much I admire that weird combination of stubbornness and stamina that can cause someone to keep something up and running over the long haul, no matter what’s going on in the rest of the world.

It’s a double edged sword, of course. But from George I learned to respect the virtues of hard work, and that’s a lesson I’ll carry with me through the rest of my life.