Anthony, left, and Manolis Christodulou show off a finished product inside Village Pizza.

CENTRAL FALLS - What’s the secret to Village Pizza’s success?

It’s not the legendary pizza sauce, although its secret ingredients are almost as protected as the gold inside Fort Knox. It’s not the dough, the toppings, or the freshly-shredded cheese, but each play their own key role in making mouths water across Central Falls.

No, according to the father and son team of Anthony and Manolis Christodulou, what has kept the popular pizza place thriving for the better part of the last 48 years has been the recipe of hard work, passion, and a belief.

Manolis recalls working during his teenage years when his father would answer phone calls and instead of asking for an order, conversations would invariably veer toward how someone’s grandmother was doing or how their mother was these days.

“My father knew everybody,” he recalled. “They wanted him to become mayor at one point; he was extremely popular.”

Even during the turbulent 1980s, when Central Falls was perhaps at its lowest point, Village Pizza was still a destination. Anthony recalls that officers from the Central Falls Police Department who walked the beat in the neighborhood would often stop in for a coffee or a slice. Meanwhile, young Manolis said he was scared to come to work during that era, yet it would be a popular place for children to hang out, eat pizza, and play arcade games. According to Manolis, some of those youngsters would later grow up to become Central Falls Police Officers.

“When my father no longer worked here on a daily basis, there would still be someone looking for him, people from Connecticut, California, he really treated the young people on the street very well and they don’t forget that,” he recalled. “Good kids, bad kids, everybody looked up to my father as family. It’s a lot more than a pizza place, it’s part of the community.”

An institution that’s just as much a part of Central Falls now as Jenks Park or the Cogswell Tower, Village Pizza will soon undergo a massive renovation that will expand the pizza parlor’s Dexter Street footprint, almost doubling its size in the process.

“We’re a mini-factory and looking to become an efficient space designed for the type of work flow and efficiency that the volume requires at this point,” Manolis said. “Right now, the square footage is around 2,500, it’s not big enough. The plan is we’re going to keep the existing building because of its historical importance, open up the back and expand it about 50 feet to have a double-sided cook line similar to what you’d have in other high-volume establishments.”

A dining area and full bar with an outdoor dining patio will be added. This is necessary, Manolis said, because about 85 percent of Village Pizza’s current business is delivery-oriented, as the current 18-seat dining room was not designed for large crowds.

“People want good food, food in an environment that’s welcoming and comfortable, have a beer or wine or cocktail, they want to watch sports, have a nice ambiance with good lighting and sound, to sit outside in the summer seasons with a full menu,” he explained. “That’s what we’re going to be doing.”

Village Pizza currently employs 50 workers, and that number is expected to double once construction is complete.

“We’re doing it the hard way, we’re doing it the legitimate way, we’re doing it because we’re helping our community,” he said.

The currently-vacant land adjacent to Village Pizza will become a future parking area in the rear, and the outdoor patio and expanded dining area in the front. Manolis said he’s not yet sure on an exact timeline for when work will be completed.

But while there’s been a commitment to the community from the father and son duo since Village Pizza opened back in 1971, what also drives hordes of hungry patrons to 650 Dexter St. is pretty simple: the pizza.

“Village Pizza means a lot to a lot of different people, beside the fact that we own and operate the business under the same family for almost 50 years now,” Manolis said. “Our sauce has a secret recipe, we’re known for it. Nine out of 10 times, the feedback from somebody who tries the pizza is ‘Oh my god, I love the sauce!’ They can’t pinpoint the uniqueness, the sweetness. It’s savory, it’s got a little kick to it. It gives you a full pizza flavor experience.”

“We load up the pizza with toppings like no one else,” he added, noting that there are no conveyor belts inside Village Pizza, but rather ovens that reach up to 600 degrees inside.

“By putting a pizza through a conveyor belt, you cannot bake it to perfection. Vegetables don’t get cooked all the way through. The deck oven made with stone, you need skilled labor to rotate the pizza in the oven throughout the cook time and you need to have somebody skilled to understand at what level to rotate, each oven has hot spots, where to keep the pizza,” he said.

Describing the style of pie available as “a Rhode Island pan-style pizza,” Manolis said the crusts are crisped to a certain point that drives customers wild.

“I’ve got 30 years on the oven, our managers both have 15 years of experience,” he said. “When you’re here on a Friday and we’re cranking, you need to know what you’re doing.”

Anthony quickly added: “If someone wanted a good pizza, the people here of Central Falls, they like good stuff. If you want good pizza, you have to come to Village Pizza.”

Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette

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