Pepperoni and prayer


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, January 29th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It:  a Middle Eastern restaurant owner in the pizza business.

Manhattan Pizza is a popular hangout for Patrick Henry College students in Purcellville, Virginia. WORLD Radio intern Kyle Ziemnick is a student at PHC and recently sat down with the owner to hear his unusual story.

KYLE ZIEMNICK, REPORTER: New York style pizza is one of America’s classic dishes. Brought over by Italian immigrants in the 1800s, it’s a delicious symbol of the American dream. Here, in Purcellville, Virginia, another immigrant is dishing it out to customers; but he’s no Italian.

AZAR: Yeah, I didn’t care what kind of business I got into. The food business – it was the first opportunity, real opportunity for me. 

That’s Jack Azar. He’s the owner of Manhattan Pizza, a local chain. Azar was born to Palestinian Christians who were refugees from the Israeli War for Independence. Azar’s parents died when he was a child, so he grew up in a school for orphans. 

AZAR: I always said to myself that my upbringing at the home, at the orphanage home teaching, you know, the Bible really, uh, I always used that for strength. That was my core strength and everything I ever did. 

Azar was sponsored by an American family during his time at the orphanage. In 1977, they decided to bring him and some of his siblings to the United States to live with them in New Hampshire. But Azar got tired of life in their small New England town. And at 14 years old, he ran away.

Azar took buses all the way from New Hampshire to his sister’s home in Houston, Texas. Cousins in San Francisco heard about his plight and invited him to live with them. Life there wasn’t always easy.

AZAR: …and I would go to school and I would eat peanut butter and jelly because that’s all I can afford. It was peanut butter and jelly, a dozen eggs and bread. That’s what I ate all day long when I was a freshman and a sophomore in high school…

When Azar was 18, he went looking for a job. The father of one of his best friends owned a small deli in San Francisco.

AZAR: He said, “Jack, do you want to come and help me?” And I did, but then he was going to shut it down and I said, “I’ll take it over.” And I actually took it over for free.

Eventually, Azar moved to northern Virginia. In 2005, he bought Manhattan Pizza from his wife’s parents.

AUDIO: [KITCHEN SOUNDS]

At the time, it was a mom and pop shop in Ashburn. Azar had bigger plans. This location in Purcellville is his 15th store. 

AUDIO: [INTERACTING WITH CUSTOMER]

As with any other business, Azar’s goal for the pizzeria is to make money. But he also sees it as a way to do something more. It started back at his deli in San Francisco.

AZAR: My deli’s area was an industrial zone, so that had a lot of people that didn’t have money and there was a lot of people… a lot of blue collar workers. So, some people would walk in and I would give them a sandwich, cut it up in six and feed everybody. And it became a habit for a lot of these people. I absolutely loved it. It made me feel so good.

Azar continues to look out for those around him today. He’s given hundreds of turkeys away to needy families around Thanksgiving every year. And opportunities to serve continue to surprise him—like a woman who visited the store in November.

AZAR: And she had six kids in a car. And I said, what are you, what are you doing? She started crying… I said, “Don’t say nothing. Bring the kids now and I’m going to make them dinner.” And she said, “Sure, Jack?” I said, “Yeah, absolutely. Bring ‘em down.” So I brought ‘em down. I made a pizza. I gave them all sodas and gave ‘em all a little bit of frozen dessert. To me… That’s just a simple thing that you can do for others.

Generosity can certainly benefit Azar’s business. Being a good Samaritan boosts interest when word gets out. But he says that isn’t why he does it. Azar says success comes from God’s hands, not his own work. He’s just trying to invest his gifts and resources for God’s glory.

AZAR: And anytime I had difficulties, I would pray, I would get on my knees and I would pray for strength. And, um, and God blessed me in everything I ever done.

And it’s that blessing that Azar wants to share with others. 

AZAR: I mean, $50. You know, you know if you can give someone $50 to go buy a nice dinner… What, $50 can make anyone rich? Simple.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Kyle Ziemnick reporting from Purcellville, Virginia.


(Photo/Manhattan Pizza)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Pepperoni and prayer

  1. Carrie says:

    Such a great story by a great journalist! Thank you for sharing 🙂

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