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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Chris Ballew tosses pizza dough at Lupi's Pizza downtown on Wednesday, March 3, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Lupi's Pizza is celebrating their 25th anniversary.

About the only thing that can make a hand-tossed slice of pizza made from fresh ingredients better is if buying it also helps someone in need.

On Saturday, Lupi's Pizza Pies will donate 25% of sales at all five locations to the Chattanooga Area Food Bank and the Caring Place in Cleveland to mark the 25th anniversary of the restaurant chain. Owner Dorris Shober said the anniversary means more to her than she would have ever imagined.

"This is the big one for me," she said. "I'm thrilled."

Part of the reason for her feelings is that several of her 115 employees have been with her for more than 20 years.

"I attribute that to the fact that we treat each other with respect," she said. "That is part of our mantra, and it goes for everybody. We treat everybody from the top down and side to side with respect. It's a safe environment and we want everybody to be treated well."

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Lupi's 25th anniversary

Shober said another reason the stores have been popular with patrons is that "we are using the same recipes we've always used."

They also use locally sourced produce and meats, including from her own farm, Flying Turtle Farm, when possible.

Except for the addition of lasagna in year two and a few appetizers later on, the food menu hasn't changed over the years. The beverage menu has adapted, however, as craft beers became more and more popular.

Shober said the idea for opening the restaurant was hatched almost 27 years ago when she and her husband at the time, Greg Beairsto, were looking to move back to Chattanooga from Atlanta to raise their two young children. He was looking to get out of sales and the two thought a pizza place was needed in downtown Chattanooga.

Problem was, Shober had no restaurant experience "and everybody thought we were crazy," he said

"We thought pizza was the thing, however, and we developed all of the recipes," Shober said. "We ate lots of bad pizza. In fact, my daughter, [Sarah] wouldn't eat pizza for a long time."

Once Lupi's did open on Broad Street, it was an immediate hit and not long after the two divorced, Shober opened a store in Hixson and now has locations on Jenkins Road in East Brainerd, Cambridge Square in Ooltewah and on Ocoee Street in Cleveland.

"Chattanooga was ready for it and the timing was perfection, but really, I'm just proud of ourselves for even trying it."

Shober said she has been approached about opening other stores outside of the area and even franchising it, "and I thought about it, but definitely will not.

"It's about the culture of the environment for the employees. That is what is really important and I can't possibly lose control like that."

She has, however, turned over much of the day-to-day business to Matt Douglass, who is now operations manager.

"He is a gift to me," she said. "He does a better job than I did even and is very compassionate and detail oriented."

Shober said she has no immediate plans for the restaurants "except to keep doing what we are doing."

She also said she is grateful every day that "we are in the pizza business during this pandemic. Pizza is made for to-go business and that has been enormous to our benefit."

She said while the downtown store has suffered the most because of the lack of workers downtown, "Cleveland has taken off."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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