Having a business being synonymous with a city is a rather peculiar concept. We see it most of the time when it comes to sports franchises. For anyone remotely aware of any team sport, you can probably name a city that plays home to one, and someone else will be able to name the team associated with it. But there are other businesses that take on the same role as fixtures of the community. Ford and GM with Detroit, Starbucks with Seattle, Coca-Cola with Atlanta. Big businesses, like sports franchises, are often intrinsically tied to the city in which they are headquartered.
And like sports franchises, when a business decides to remove itself from the city to which it is historically tied, the impact is felt in the community. Think of the backlash Ford faced in Detroit when it moved production to Mexico. Or the extreme hurt the city of Cleveland felt when the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens. These entities were - and are - so closely tied to the town, that losing them had a deep impact on the community at large. Sure, some of it is a direct impact - people lose their jobs and surrounding businesses suffer as fewer people are around to frequent their establishments - but even those who do not experience a direct or residual impact still feel as though the fabric of their community has been torn.
This brings us to what has happened in West Hempstead over the past few weeks. Hunki’s Pizza, a fixture of the community for over 35 years, has closed its doors. It did not go out of business; it just packed up and moved to the Five Towns, a neighborhood that already has an abundance of pizza shops and other eateries. This happened in the middle of the night. There was no fanfare. No announcement. Not even a post on social media warning the community of the impending move. It just <poof> happened. There are many rumors around West Hempstead about what will happen to that location. Will another store open? Will a competing shop move in? Will Hunki’s return at some point? For now, a simple search on Google reveals that Hunki’s is listed as “permanently closed.”
Instead of criticizing a business for making a business decision, it’s important to understand just what losing a piece of the community means to the people it used to serve. This was a store that saw a number of incarnations, but certain constants still remained. It was the store that until October of 2021 outlasted its neighborhood competition. It’s where countless children had their birthday parties and got to see how pizza was made. It’s where new families went to get their free pizza the day they moved into the community. It was the simchas they catered, the quick grabbings of lunch, and the friendliness of the staff. It was quintessentially West Hempstead.
There are a lot of people who have been commenting that the pizza was not even all that good. That is very much beside the point. Cleveland was in a state of mourning when the Browns left, and they weren’t any good at football. Businesses tied to a town aren’t about whether or not they put out a good product; they are about their close ties to the community. It was never about simply losing a service or team. It is about losing an entity that is synonymous with your town.
The removal of Hunki’s from West Hempstead may have been a good business decision. Perhaps the Hunki’s brand will flourish in Woodmere. It’s not the first time the franchise has moved. The original move was from Oceanside to West Hempstead. The difference is that Hunki’s was only a part of the Oceanside community for a few years. It wasn’t an institution; it was a store that tried and moved on. In West Hempstead, Hunki’s thrived. For 35 years. Hunki’s was West Hempstead. And now it’s gone. The community is not mourning the loss like it would if a big business was moving out, taking thousands of jobs with it. The community is angry at the loss like someone removing a hometown team for greener pastures. The difference is that when you move a team, it has to move. The team cannot play in both locations. A pizza store can be open in more than one location - and maybe Hunki’s will one day return to West Hempstead, but it will have a lot of work to do to rebuild the trust it once had with the community.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.