Now, before you get the opinion that I have my priorities completely out of whack (or if this merely cements that opinion you already had), let me explain. Donato's is a pizza chain that started in Ohio. And we in Orlando have been blessed enough to have 11 Donato's around town since we moved here. Now, at first I didn't really get the wonder of the chain. It had some really quirky things going on - you would call from your table back to the kitchen to order your food, they used paper plates and cups. But I soon began to appreciate the food there - and our whole family loved it.
It is no secret that I love pizza. It is my favorite food. Sure, I am a big fan of other foods too (ice cream, a really good steak, lasagna). But pizza is that food that I can eat multiple times a week. I'll have it for lunch and still be okay eating it for dinner. I'll eat it three nights in a row and then get it again the next day for lunch. You may call that a problem. I call it food love. One of my interests is food - I watch Food Network, I love grilling, I love making recipes and having people enjoy them. Pizza is the top of that heap. I love Chicago style, New York style, thick crust, thin and crispy, hand tossed, flatbread, french bread. I even can tolerate mediocre or poor pizza.
My favorite pizza place is Pizzeria Uno. It serves deep dish pizza that is UNBELIEVABLE. There are no Unos in Tampa or Jacksonville. So it has been a journey of happiness every time I move back to Orlando. How much do I like Uno? I went there for my bachelor party. We ate there on our honeymoon. I go there most birthdays. But the problem is that it is not cheap. Pizza should be cheap. I have hundreds of coupons for Pizza Hut and Dominos and Papa Johns. That's the only way I'll order it from those places. I used to love Pizza Hut - hated the other two of the big three. But Donato's ruined all of that. It became our replacement for Uno.
Three things made us become Donato's acolytes. First, they had a No Dough Pizza that Heather ate when she was pregnant with Gabe and had to fight gestational diabetes. Second, I got one of those area discount cards from Oviedo High School. It took $3 off a large pizza at Donato's. You know how awesome that is? Knocked the price down to $9.99. Third, we moved last summer five minutes away from a Donato's. It was right down the street. It could deliver in 20 minutes. I could pick it up at the drive by window in 15 minutes. So, combine all of that. We could all eat for $15 (kids split a stromboli) or $19 (kids BOTH get a individual pizza). The toppings were fresh. The crust was awesome. They had fresh mozzarella as a topping. It was as cheap as McDonald's and it was PIZZA. Really good pizza. Their pepperoni was super - guaranteed to have 100 slices on each large pizza.
And the memories that come with it. I remember Heather being pregnant with Gabe and Donato's being the one time she felt like she could eat "normal food." I remember when Josiah stopped ordering the pizza kids meal and wanted to try the stromboli. It was such a "big boy" food choice. And he loved it. I remember eating out on the patio with Toney Sauls one night when our wives were both out of town. And I remember Heather and I splitting the large pizza (half pepperoni, half fresh mozz) sitting on the bed, watching Friends, while Gabe nursed and napped. It was more than just losing a pizza place - it was losing something our whole family loved together.
Now it's gone. We have to go back to Pizza Hut. Ugh. It reminds me of when Red Robin burgers closed down in West Palm Beach when I was in school. I nearly cried. That sounds dumb - but I had so many memories there. I went there every birthday. Our youth group used to go there all the time. They had a burger with FRIED EGG on it (before my deadly egg allergy kicked in). They had the best mozzarella sticks, best seasoned waffle fries, best burgers, AND Mountain Dew. It was so awesome.
I found a few Red Robins over the years - one in Allentown, one in California. We've eaten there and it is never the same. The mozzarella sticks are still great - but honestly I've found better over the years. They ditched their waffle fries. And I can't have the egg on the burger any more. Last time, I didn't even get Mountain Dew. Donato's will still be around - and they are expanding into the Carolinas. We sometimes are up there - I may be up there two or three times before the end of the year. And I'm sure I'll visit their new "counter service" option. But I know it won't have the same memories or feel. That's the thing about losing something like that. The memories end up making it much better than it ever was. And I guess that's why I was so sad this morning. It was closing the book on something special - and knowing we couldn't replace it or get it back. And I am sad for those employees who did such a great job keeping us happy, making up for their mistakes, and letting us switch the TV to Noggin or Nick when we were alone in the back room. I hope they can find new jobs - especially with the bad job market. Well, I guess I should get back to work - I have to find a new pizza place.