Working out of a small brick retail space on Broad Street, with little ventilation, no cooling, and a space barely large enough to fit his pizza oven, Paul Burkland launched his pizza business in downtown Globe. He used his middle name and called it Leonard Paul’s Pizza.
It was the mid ’70s, and Valley National Bank anchored the corner at Oak and Broad. Carmed’s commanded much of the retail trade on the block. Globe’s busy downtown district stretched for eight blocks and included United Sporting Goods, Gibson’s Men’s Wear, Woolworth’s, Bacon’s Boots and Saddles, Mode O Day, and Hollis Theater. Burgland rented a space from a Mrs. Cecil, who owned a dress shop.
“I would cut up slices and stand on the corner begging people to take a slice,” says Burkland. “I knew if they had one slice they’d come back for more.” Young and old took him up on his offer in those early days. One man, now in his 70s, remembers his first slice on the sidewalk. He was just 16 then and has been coming back for more ever since, raising his kids on Leonard Paul’s pizza, and his kids raising their kids. That’s the magic of Leonard Paul’s pizza.
For over 40 years, the name Leonard Paul has been synonymous with pizza in this town.
Burkland never started out to be a restaurant owner. As a young man, he started out working at a gas station, making $1.10 an hour. One day, a customer came in, liked the way Burkland hopped to it, and offered him a busboy job at $4 an hour. The restaurant was called Mountain Shadows, a local resort. Burgland was soon doing more and more in the kitchen, while also going to school to earn a teaching degree.
Four years into his work at the restaurant, his employer offered him a catering job paying $26,000.
Burkland turned it down.
“I don’t ever want to see another kitchen as long as I live,” he said.
Instead, he accepted a teaching job at McNary High School, making $6,300 a year. He also—for no extra salary—coached football, basketball, and track.
“Completely stupid,” he says as he shakes his head. “I just figured that now that I was a teacher, that was what I was supposed to do.”
He would end up back at Mountain Shadows, waiting tables on school breaks over Christmas to make money, and got into construction for the same reason. It was difficult to make ends meet on $100 a week, he smiles, Life became a process of juggling a teaching life with part-time jobs.
He discovered his second teaching job while wandering around ASU one day, where he noticed a posting for a teaching position at San Carlos. Driving out for the interview, he says he remembers seeing all the cottonwoods lining the road, and says it felt like a sign. “I grew up on a dairy farm, with cottonwood trees. It was an epiphany,” he says. “I didn’t even know the meaning of the word then. It just felt right.”
Burkland would be at San Carlos for three years as a teacher and coach. He loved the kids and the community, but chafed at the politics, and by year three he says he knew they weren’t going to renew his contract. It was on a break from teaching that last year, while visiting his dad in Phoenix, that he had a second epiphany.
He says his dad set a pizza and a big sandwich in front of him and asked him to try a bite of each.
At the time, Burkland remembers most pizzas were cold, and the beer was warm, so he emphatically turned down the offer and told his dad he’d rather get a Big Mac.
His dad pleaded, insisted really, until he gave in.
“I had a bite of the pizza and a bite of the sandwich, and that was it. It was the best I had ever tasted,” he says. I could not believe how wonderful it was,” he smiles.
Six weeks later, he says, he knew he was going to leave teaching and become a pizza man.
The recipe came from a small father-son business called Dago Dan’s, run by Fabrizio and Dan Labriolo. Located at 52nd Street and Thomas in Phoenix, it had originated in 1943 in Chicago as a family bakery. As Burkland tells it, the family would piddle around with sauces while they waited for the bread to bake, and eventually they created their own brand of pizzas and hoagies (sandwiches).
When Burkland ran them down to see about buying the recipe, he was prepared to pay big for it. “I figured I could go to the bank and borrow $40K,” he laughs now. “Naive. Just stupid,” he says, shaking his head. With no job and the SW Savings and Loan debacle in the headlines, Burkland’s efforts failed. Despite this, he went to the Labriolos anyway and asked how much for their recipe, figuring he would simply find some way to pay their price.
“How much you got?” they asked.
Burkland didn’t have any money to give them that day, but he did have $2,000 in his retirement account. It was all he had. He offered it to them.
“Okay, I’ll sell it to you for that,” came the reply.
After that, Burkland says, he spent a day and a half with the father and son to learn the recipes.
Looking back, he says if he had stayed longer with the Labriolos, he would have made fewer mistakes and lost less money in the early going. Cheese was a big lesson.
“I was driving a 55 International pickup into Phoenix three times a week to get cheese,” he says. After six months of this, the wholesaler finally asked him how much cheese he was using and how much money he was making.
Burkland’s first slice of pizza had sold for 55 cents, and a slice and a Coke was a dollar. Back then, flour cost him $3.50 for a fifty-pound sack. Today, that same sack of flour would cost $33.
“I don’t know,” said to the cheese man. He guessed he was making about $200 a day.
“Leonard, you’re using too much cheese,” the man told Burkland.
So Burkland picked up the phone and called Dan Labrioloa, who asked just how much he was using.
“Just like you taught me,” Burkland said. “About two handfuls and a little bit.”
“Leonard, your hands are too big!” Dan said. “You’ve spoiled them [the customers] now. When you do what you’re going to do, they’re going to freak.”
It was true. Burkland had been using over a half pound of cheese per pizza, when the recipe called for a quarter of a pound.
He survived that lesson and adjusted his methods. Burkland says that even on his worst days, he was making more money than he had as a teacher.
After a couple of years on Broad Street, he got the chance to move up the block and lease the old SnoCap, a popular burger joint with an outdoor patio that sat across from the post office. He jumped at it.
“I was so happy,” he says. “I went from a space half the size and with no cooling, to a 20 by 30 space with a cooler, for just $300 a month.”
Over the next thirty years, Burkland put improvements into the place, including a new roof after the old one blew off in a storm, and enclosing the outdoor patio. He remembers his rent going up only once in that time, to $400.
Burkland’s luck in landlords would not last, though. When his old landlord sold the corner lot, including Burkland’s pizza place, the new investor tripled his rent. It was a bitter pill to swallow, he says, but he was able to use the money his parents had left him to buy the building.
Today, his daughter Courtney runs the business. Her siblings have gone in different directions, but Courtney sees value in the family business and wants to be part of carrying on the name.
“I want Leonard Paul’s to stay Leonard Paul’s,” she says.
Writer, photographer. Passionate foodie, lover of good books and storytelling. Lives in Globe. Plays in the historic district. Travels when possible.