By JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to The Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE – Since being established in 1964, Domino Pizza House has been a staple for pizza lovers in the area. Owner Noel Estoppey always knew he would take over the family business, originally founded by his father, Claude.
“My father would always say to me, ‘You know you have to take over for me someday,’ and it never clicked in my head when I was young, but I always knew it was the family business and I would have to continue on sometime,” said Estoppey.
Estoppey began working for his father at the age of eight by sweeping the sidewalk and making subs, a sandwich that was still relatively unknown at the time.
“My father would pay me 10 cents a sub for every sub I would make and wrap,” recalled Estoppey. “It was back in the late 70s or early 80s, and I would ask him ‘Can I make more?’ and he would say ‘but you may not sell them son,’ because we only sold so many subs a day. If I were to make 10 cents a sub now, I think I would be making good money because we make a lot of subs now, but back then there were no submarine sandwiches.”
When it opened in 1963, the legal name of the business was Domino Tearoom, which Claude named after the business in Bern, Switzerland where he had his first job.
Claude, a classically trained pastry chef, came to Canada intent on starting a new life. He moved to Winnipeg and got a job as a caterer at a golf and country club, relocating to Stephenville to work at Harmon Airforce Base.
“People at work in Winnipeg were talking about an American air force base in Newfoundland that needed a fancy pastry chef for the officers,” said Estoppey. “Where Razoolies was is where the officers mess was, and that is where he worked.”
Domino Pizza House started out with two employees and, as of this summer, have 27 staff. Estoppey said that larger corporations with more employees doing smaller jobs have changed the dynamic for many small businesses who now need to keep up.
“My father and my mother were the only employees at the time. To be honest, 20 years ago you would have half the staff to do the same amount a work. At a pizza place you need to have somebody making the pizza, somebody answering the phones, and at one time it would be one person doing all of that. Times have changed,” said Estoppey.
For Domino Pizza House, an encounter with a well-branded corporate pizza giant was more personal than others. In the 80s, Domino’s Pizza franchise sued Domino Pizza House for rights to the name of ‘Domino’s’. What the franchise didn’t anticipate was that Domino Pizza House had incontrovertible proof that they were incorporated in Canada prior to the internationally recognized Domino’s franchise.
“We were incorporated in Newfoundland in ‘81, and they never even came into Canada until ‘86, so they immediately backed off. I guess because they thought we would pursue them and get them to change their name,” said Estoppey.
With the pizza name lawsuit dead in the water, there was a very real possibility of retaliation by Estoppey; however, Claude chose not to pursue any legal action.
“When you are dealing with a big corporation like Domino’s, and you are just a small family business in a small town, going up against them would be hard,” stated Estoppey. “My father said, ‘I’ll leave it up to you son,’ and I’ll probably say that to my son too.”
Even though he would love the help, Estoppey wants his kids to live their own lives and is in no rush to have them take over the long standing family business.
“It’s like a big wheel that keeps turning and I’m here to keep that wheel turning and someday my kids will take over and make that wheel turn,” said Estoppey. “But right now, I want my kids to make their own way. Life is not all about pizza for them like it was for me. It was my destiny, but I want more for my kids.”
This past year has offered an especially unique challenge for Estoppy as the COVID pandemic hit small businesses and restaurants very hard.
“COVID changed everything. It makes it bad for everybody. You go to order from your suppliers, and they have doubled their prices, so now our prices have to increase or else we won’t survive, but you still need to keep your customers happy,” explained Estoppey.
Luckily for Domino Pizza House, their business was able to make it through the pandemic, and Estoppey admits he has an idea as to why.
“People come back after a long time away because of the memories,” said Estoppey. “It’s a taste of home.”