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Community gets a slice of Varsity Pizza

6:30 pm June 1st, 2012

New restaurant has schools high on its list for giving back

Hand-tossed dough for the crust is part of the pizzas that Tony Markasis makes at Varsity Pizza, which opened in March on Mountain Highway near Eatonville. Jim Bryant/The Dispatch.

Kevin Stevens thinks pizza, teenagers and families go together like pepperoni and cheese.

Stevens is the owner and operator of Varsity Pizza, where the focus is on opportunities for high school students and family-oriented dining experiences. “And good pizza,” he said.

In its first two months in business, the dine-in/takeout establishment near Eatonville has been targeting local high schools, which is how it got its name. Varsity sports teams can design a pizza and sell them as a fund-raiser, as Eatonville High’s girls basketball team is doing to help pay for its trip next season to a tournament in California. “Fund-raising is so important to schools. They need businesses to partner with them,” Stevens said.

Varsity also hosts team functions, most recently for the boys soccer team and the equestrian club at Eatonville High. And Varsity’s catering has attracted the attention of Bethel High School’s football squad for team meals.

Stevens, whose four children attend schools in the Eatonville district, extends Varsity’s school-friendliness to employment and academics. Most of its 15 employees are high school students. He also is thinking about organizing a tutoring night at the restaurant to help students with their homework.

“We want to do things for the community and be a nice place for families and where kids want to spend time,” Stevens said. “I knew if we came up with that kind of place, it would take off.”

Varsity is Stevens’ fulltime occupation and his first business venture. After a career as an IT manager for computer companies, he started thinking that Graham, Eatonville and surrounding communities were hungry for a local pizza joint. He did the research and learned that the area is well-populated (about 50,000) and affluent enough (the median family income is $60,000) to support one. After spending a year-plus working with the regional office of the U.S. Small Business Administration on a business plan, and following a three-month remodeling project by ATB Construction, Varsity Pizza opened March 15 in the building at 32619 Mountain Hwy E.

The pizza industry is hyper-competitive. Stevens plans to keep Varsity in the dough through “good service and good food. It’s all about quality.”

So far, garlic chicken is the biggest-selling pizza. Number two is the all-meat, which is Stevens’ personal favorite. All the pies are made from hand-tossed dough and fresh ingredients. The head pizza maker is Tony Markasis, a native of the U.S. east coast, where pizza has a special style.

Varsity’s menu also includes hot sandwiches, chicken wings, dessert pizzas, wine and beer.

Stevens said he loves the contact with people that comes with running a restaurant. But he isn’t forsaking his computer background completely. He’s planning to open a computer store, named Varsity Computer, next door to the restaurant.

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