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Restaurant move provides real-world project

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OIP has new location, students help with decor

By John Barnhart

    When Original Italian Pizza (OIP) moved from its longtime home at the west end of Bedford to its new home in the old Wal-Mart Plaza, Domenica LoPiccolo wanted to commission Leslie Padgett to do a mural.

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    Padgett, the art teacher at Liberty High School, had another suggestion — getting the students involved in a real world project.
    The students did paintings on pizza boxes, provided by OIP, of their favorite Italian food ingredient.
    “I thought that was a cool play on the product,” Padgett said.

    So did Domenica LoPiccolo.
    “When I saw the result, I was real ecstatic and happy,” said Domenica.
    “The kids were engaged,” commented Padgett.
    Thomas Fox’s manufacturing technology education class also got a piece of the project. They built the shadow boxes, with wood supplied by OIP, for the student art to be mounted on. The best of the student’s art was selected and 18 of the decorated pizza boxes line the walls of OIP. When you look at them at a distance, you don’t realize they are pizza boxes. That becomes apparent on close observation.
    Padgett said that a business class she teaches, as well as a computer information systems class taught by Jeanne Willis, got involved. They designed new menu covers and flyers, which Domenica LoPiccolo said they will use.
    It was a valuable learning experience for the students because they had to research their target market. In this case it involved learning about OIP and this, in turn, taught them that some of their early ideas, which they thought were cool, would not be appropriate for a family restaurant.
    Padgett is thrilled that the LoPiccolos let her do this. It showcases the student talent at Liberty and provides a real world project, rather than a canned exercise, for the students to work on. She said it’s also a good resume builder.
    “My art was selected to be a part of  local business,” Padgett said, pointing out what students can put on post high school resumes, wherever they go.
    “It just makes the learning experience fun,” she added.
    The LoPiccolos have operated OIP in the west end of town since 1997. It used to be a good location when Winn-Dixie was still there, but that location began to go downhill after the grocery-chain store went out of business. Traffic steadily declined.
    “That side of town has died,” Domenica said. “There is no traffic anymore.”
    The final decision to move came when they were offered a location in the old Wal-Mart Plaza. Along with being in a livelier business environment — they have added lunch traffic from Lowes and Wal-Mart employees — the new place has double the space. It also provides a separate room that they can offer for private parties. The extra space allowed them to greatly expand their salad bar. They also took advantage of the fact that fire regulations required them to have a side door toward the back of the restaurant. It opens on a paved area where take-out customers can park and enter through this door.
    It also allowed them to have the kitchen totally open to public view.
    “We have nothing to hide,” said Domenica
    Customers were always able to watch Tony make pizza, twirling the dough as he shapes it. Now both of them can see their customers.
    The move has been good. Domenica said they are very busy on Sundays and have lots of lunch traffic.
    “All the kids did a great, great job,” commented Domenica of the art.
    One of those kids is their daughter, who goes by Rosie. Domenica said that she plans to go to college, following high school, and study to become a pediatric nurse.
    Original Italian Pizza is owned by original Italians. Tony and Domenica come from Sicily, from a town called Carini. They originally had a restaurant in Pennsylvania but moved to Bedford because they have family in Lynchburg.
    “We did a move for our kids,” Domenica commented.
    “I wouldn’t move anywhere,” she said. “It’s a nice place to raise kids. I love it.”
    She said they are planning to have a pizza party for the Liberty High School students and their parents.