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Pizza is back in Hackensack

Familiar business owners embark on journey with Happy Pizza

Happy Pizza in Hackensack
John Chuba stands in front of the remodeled Happy Pizza building on Whipple Avenue and First Street in Hackensack after its May 2022 opening.
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal
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HACKENSACK — Since 2018, Hackensack has been without pizza after cancer disrupted the life and plans of the owner of Lucette's restaurant.

Since then, John Chuba and Stephen Ruhl, landlords of the Lucette's building, had been contemplating getting into the pie slinging business themselves.

"At that time we weren't that sold on us having a pizza place," Chuba said. "But then the more we talked about it, we realized the town really needed another good restaurant. And one thing led to the next and you know, here we are open."

We're going to do a really, really good pizza, but then we're going to have a lot of fun stuff in here."
John Chuba

The business is called Happy Pizza.

Chuba and Ruhl are habitual entrepreneurs. Among their past businesses are Pure North, a women's store, an antique shop, a gift shop called Lemonade Stand, the Book Nook and a fitness center in Backus, among others.

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Chuba and Ruhl are also the former proprietors of Sun N Fun, a classic soda fountain and gift shop that dealt in vintage treats, such as glass bottled sodas and candies from days of yore. They had that shop for 18 years.

Business for Lucette's restaurant in Hackensack was mostly good this year. It celebrated its 15-year anniversary on Valentine's Day with its popular stuffed pizzas, and except for an early business slowdown thanks to Highway 371 road construction...

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It's been two years since they sold Sun N Fun, and with its closure under a new owner, they are starting to offer some of the same glass bottled sodas and vintage candies at Happy Pizza since doing so will no longer be in direct competition with anyone.

"We're going to do a really, really good pizza," Chuba said. "But then we're goint to have a lot of fun stuff in here. We're going to have sauces and candies, flavored cotton candies and flavored popcorn and nostalgic stuff. At some point we plan on bringing in the beach toys and stuff to play off on the lake and the bike trail and things like that.

"We want to become this really fun retail area that sells really good pizza," he said. "So you can come in here when you're hungry and eat, or you come in here just to shop and find really cool, fun stuff. I mean, where else are you going to find the hand grenade bottle hot sauces?"

We make our dough every day and we ferment it for a few days. It's about a three-day process and we toss it by hand. You know, our pizzas are artisan style.
John Chuba

First they renovated. They removed plaster and ceiling coverings and an enclosed entrance to reveal the classic character of the building with its aged brick walls, tin ceiling and angular entryway. They named it Happy Pizza as an acronym for Hackensack Area Pizza Parlor Yummy.

They opened up shop quietly to avoid being overwhelmed, but on the first day they used word of mouth and free pizza to keep hot pies going out the doors.

"That was about three weeks ago on a Saturday," Chuba said. "We turned the lights on and anyone who came in that night just got free pizza."

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Now the plan is to learn as they go, and use that information to make decisions for the future. As it stands, Chuba said they are likely to stick with pizza only so they can focus on providing the absolute best pizza they can. That could change if they feel they need more.

Chuba said they aren't doing specialty pizzas, but have chosen to use high quality, classic toppings to keep customers returning.

"What ends up happening is you put all these specialties pizzas together, and then people say, 'I want the Sunset Pizza but I don't want the green peppers and I want extra pickles,'" Chuba said. "So when we opened up, we said, 'Here's our list of all the traditional toppings. Put them together.' Since then, in just a few weeks we have decided to do just a few specialty pizzas, but your traditional specialties.

"So we have a deluxe, which is a little bit of everything. We have a meat lovers and we have a veggie lovers. Then we also have a cauliflower crust pizza for people who like to go gluten free so they can get their cauliflower crust, which is really good," he said.

They put extra special care into their dough.

"We make our dough every day and we ferment it for a few days," Chuba said. "It's about a three-day process and we toss it by hand. You know, our pizzas are artisan style."

So far the business has been well received. Chuba and Ruhl are the only official workers, though they have family that helps out on particularly busy weekends. Customers come in and order at the counter and pick up the pizza there when ready, so the business model works for a small staff.

Happy Pizza is open from 4-8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday with plans to remain open throughout the winter, at least for the first year while they learn what works.

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Those who want pizzas for an event outside of business hours may contact the shop. Chuba and Ruhl are open to discussing special orders.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.

Related Topics: BUSINESSHACKENSACKFOOD
Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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