FOOD: Hard work and respect pays off for pizza shop
By Mark Williams
For The Ironton Tribune
Ray Dezwareh is no stranger to hard work.
“My father taught me responsibility when I was three years old,” says Dezwareh, longtime owner of Ironton’s Skeeto’s Pizza. “He said, ‘If you want to drink milk from the cow, you’ve got to feed the cow.’ So that was my first job at 3 years old. Feeding the cow.”
Five years later, at only 8 years old, the Iranian-born Dezwareh was thrust into the lead role at his family’s farm when his father passed away. For the next 14 years, Ray would shoulder the load of the farm until, at age 22, he decided to leave the country and move to America. Los Angeles, California to be exact. There he worked full time while going to school full time, eventually earning a business degree from the University of California State at Los Angeles.
After school, Dezwareh entered the corporate world, but soon left feeling unsatisfied.
“I worked for other companies but I wanted to be on my own. I like people, but I’m quiet and awkward,” Dezwareh says with a sly smile. “I used to wear suits, but I prefer tee shirts and jeans.”
In Los Angeles, Dezwareh opened and worked in different restaurants and coffee shops, but the big city life began to lose its appeal. Together with his wife Janet, an Ironton native, the couple began to look for a fresh start outside of California. When Skeeto’s Pizza went up for sale in 2003, they saw an opportunity. In January of 2004, the couple officially became the new owners of the Lawrence County staple. The transition from Los Angeles to Ironton was a welcome one.
“There’s no traffic here. People know each other by their first names. If you get into trouble or need help, people are there to help. In Los Angeles, life moves too fast. No one cares about anyone else. Everyone is just chasing the dollar,” Dezwareh said.
The transition from coffee shops to pizza was a little different.
“I had never made a pizza before. I was used to making eggs, bacon and other stuff for breakfast. And steaks and chicken for dinner. I had to learn a whole new menu,” Dezwareh said.
Over time, Dezwareh mastered the art of pizza and slowly began to add his own creations to the menu. But he was sure not to rush too much change.
“I added items very slowly. I didn’t want to scare people. We didn’t have hamburgers before, so I added them. And now we sell a lot of them,” Dezwareh said.
Skeeto’s Pizza has been embedded in the Lawrence County community since the early 1990’s. Given the restaurant’s longevity, Dezwareh’s hesitancy toward change is more than understandable. But sure enough, some of his new items are now his best sellers, including the Cheeseburger Pizza and the Farmer Pizza. While a tasty menu and a familiar name help, the real secret to Dezwareh’s success at Skeeto’s has been his attitude and his approach.
“I always tell my staff, ‘Do not serve something you yourself would not eat. And presentation is very important,’” he said with an earnest smile.
“And treat every customer with respect. Respect them the way you want to be respected.”
Of course, an intrinsic work ethic helps too. Even at 67 years old, Dezwareh has no intentions of slowing down anytime soon. And he will continue to lead by example.
“I still have the energy,” he said confidently. “I work seven days a week, usually 14 hours a day. We are closed on Sunday, but I’m always in here cleaning and prepping for the week ahead. If I don’t work hard, how can I expect the same from my employees?”
Call Skeeto’s for a delivery at 740-532-6033, or visit them in person at 3449 State Route 141 in Ironton.