The Nostalgia of Pizza in the Pandemic

At midnight on March 17, 2020, the city of San Francisco went on lockdown. Citizens were told to shelter in place in the wake of Covid-19, which was already spreading at an alarming rate across the Bay Area.

Over seven weeks after the shutdown, the streets of San Francisco remain quiet. Bars and restaurants have had nothing but empty seats since delivery and to-go orders became more ubiquitous.

“I don’t think anybody knew it would come here at the force it did,” said Christina Siu, co-owner of local eatery Pizza Squared, in an email.

Pizza Squared is a modern fast-casual eatery known for its exceptional Detroit and Sicilian Style pies sold at just $5 a slice. The menu features unique options like Vodka Tomato Cheese and Bulgogi Meatball pan pizzas. Slices are served in squares.

Siu and her husband, Ryan, opened the restaurant at the end of 2018. It’s located in the SOMA, a normally bustling SF neighborhood that’s fallen on hard times during the pandemic. They were both born and raised in the city, with many of their family members also in the hospitality business.

Pizza Squared is a neighborhood pizzeria with a Bay Area twist.

“We are elevating the slice,” said Siu.

Siu and Ryan wanted to focus on pan pizzas. Ryan spent years perfecting the dough, tweaking the recipe until it was just right. This signature style was inspired by Siu’s childhood, when her school made pan-style pies on Pizza Day.

“Pizza is nostalgic, we wanted to bring that back in a modern way,” she said.

Siu’s favorite thing on the menu is the Detroit-style Caramelized Onion pie, which boasts three kinds of tasty cheeses: gruyere, mozzarella, and ricotta. It’s the restaurant’s take on French Onion Soup.

People can still order their favorites from the restaurant, which has remained open for its usual take-out and delivery. But in the current climate, sales are low. Siu said the biggest hardship has been the one her employees are facing.

“They lost all their jobs and we are all they have left,” she said. “Knowing how much their lives have been effected is hard. They are family. Their worries are our worries.”

The Sius wear a lot of hats these days, especially with two young children at home. Siu and Ryan are juggling distance learning with applying for financial aid. Like many small business owners, they have yet to receive a loan from the government.

With all that’s going on, Siu was shocked the most by how quickly everything changed. She not only has Pizza Squared and her children to look after, but also her aging parents and the business they can no longer run. It’s all changed her perspective.

“This virus does not care how old, how much money, what ethnicity you are,” said Siu. “It showed us what really matters. Who cares about clothes or traveling now?”

One thing that has changed most of all is restaurants, which have been forced to adapt and many won’t survive the crisis. Despite the odds, there are many things people can do to support their local food joints during the pandemic.  

At Pizza Squared, customers can buy pizza kits and half-baked pies to make later. Siu said tipping as much as possible and spreading the word on social media are great ways to help.

She said she has been encouraged by her customers, which is a positive reminder that the little things don’t go unnoticed.

“Now is a time for compassion & understanding,” Siu said. “I love seeing people write notes in their delivery orders thanking us for staying open. Customers walking by checking in on us. That gives us the fuel we need to keep going!”

In these uncertain times, pizza is something that connects people. Maybe it’s because of its comforting, cheesy goodness, or maybe it’s as simple as remembering Pizza Day at school. Whatever the reason, this local pizzeria is beloved.

As the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the Bay Area continues to rise, it’s a waiting game to see if the city and its restaurants can bounce back.

Siu remained hopeful. “This virus has showed us what we are made of.”

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