RENO, Nev. (AP) - If Smiling With Hope Pizza didn’t train people with learning disabilities; if it didn’t have this mission; if its only purpose was to send out thin-crust pies bubbling with mozzarella - if all that were true, would the slices taste as good?
Call it the pizzeria take on that old question about a rose and any other name.
For you and me, the answer to the question would be yes. Yes as in pungent oregano and fresh garlic, crushed; as in gusty basil and dough given a final stretch before topping.
But for Walter Gloshinski, who owns Smiling With Hope with his wife Judy, the answer is more complicated.
While proud of his pizza craft, “I wouldn’t want to have just a regular restaurant. I wouldn’t like it. The cause is the whole enchilada.” Or, in pizza parlance, the whole New York-style pie lined with Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano.
“We train people in hands-on work skills,” Gloshinski continued. “My goal is to create sustainable lives for our trainees, our employees. Here, they don’t feel disabled.”
Smiling With Hope couldn’t have been anything but a pizzeria.
Walter Gloshinski’s mother comes from a family of bread makers in the Abruzzo region of central Italy. His grandmother baked pizzas in between bread batches at the family bakery and butcher shop in northern New Jersey.
A teenage Gloshinski “ended up getting a job helping a guy named Alfredo at his pizzeria. He taught me everything about dough and pizza. I used to take wet towels and practice throwing them to emulate throwing the pizza dough.”
And during the years he worked as a musician, “I supplemented my income working in a bakery, working in a pizzeria, working with dough.”
Along the way, Gloshinski got a master’s in special education, and for the past 25 years, in schools in Texas, California and Ohio, he’s run culinary education programs for students with learning disabilities.
Before he and his wife retired (is that the right word?) to Reno, Gloshinski and seven of his students ran a commercial kitchen at a high school outside Columbus, Ohio. The business, he said, sold about 100 to 150 pizzas a week at $7 a pop, plus several thousand chocolate chip cookies a month, the treats made using a healthful recipe Gloshinski developed.
“We also partnered with the food service vendor for Denison University (a nearby school),” he said. “They would hire my students once they got up to speed.”
Today, Smiling With Hope works with the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation, a division of the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. Potential trainees are interviewed, and “if it feels like a good fit, we give ‘em a shot,” Gloshinski said.
Trainees work in four-hour shifts and are paid for up to 80 hours of work. After that, there’s the possibility of being hired by the pizzeria as a standard employee.
The other afternoon, trainee Emma Crow worked with Gloshinski as he fashioned classic New York-style pies. A round of dough was removed from the dough box. Gloshinski floured it, then stretched it as it spun. On went swipes of tomato sauce and the cheese: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, whole-milk mozzarella from Wisconsin.
“Everybody in New York and New Jersey uses Wisconsin cheese,” Gloshinski said. “It has a better flavor to me.” When the pie was done, Gloshinski tore apart the edge of the crust to show off the airy crumb.
Across the kitchen, chef Mark Granucci, a volunteer at Smiling With Hope, showed trainee Cody Hand how to make garlic knots.
“My girlfriend’s son has Down Syndrome, so I’m very aware of people with special needs,” Granucci said, explaining what inspired him to volunteer.
The son’s name is Jackson, and art by him hangs for sale on the restaurant’s walls. Two standout pieces: an ink-on-paper cemetery scene and a watercolor of outer space. All proceeds go to the artist.
The Lakeside Drive digs now occupied by Smiling With Hope have housed a succession of restaurants over the years, including the original Blue Moon Pizza far back in the day.
Walter and Judy Gloshinski said they deployed beaucoup elbow grease getting the space shipshape after the most recent tenant. “The kitchen! I had to use 12 gallons of de-greaser on my hands and knees,” Judy Gloshinski said. “How do you get a layer of grease under the sink?”
Now, the space is roomy and bright, with two 800-pound stainless steel gas deck Blodgett pizza ovens commanding the kitchen. “We brought them with us,” Judy Gloshinski said. “They were next to our bed in the moving van.”
Besides traditional New York pizzas, Smiling With Hope also offers a ricotta pie (with egg mixed into the ricotta), thicker-crust Sicilian versions, pizza by the slice, and accoutrements like calzones and pepperoni rolls.
But no matter the dish, the mission of Smiling With Hope is an essential ingredient.
“We want to create an environment where everyone feels totally supported and is never judged,” Walter Gloshinski said. “Where it’s OK to make mistakes because everybody makes mistakes.”
Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, https://www.rgj.com
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