Tribute to a beloved local business owner, John Magraw

In fall 2017, I was taking a course on journalism/new media and assigned to do a profile on a local business or attraction. Focus was especially given to places that had just opened, celebrated an anniversary, or preparing to close. I chose Unchained Pizza, a local takeout restaurant in my city that had reopened after shuttering for two years after severe snowfall collapsed their roof. I was fortunate enough to speak with John T. Magraw, the owner and general manager of the store. He was very kind and friendly to my family as well. I really appreciate people like him who are willing to speak with student journalists, despite the fact that many of these pieces we write are for the eyes of our professors, their teaching assistants, or classmates. Thus, articles like these are for very selective audiences and do not generate as much press (and therefore, consumers) as an interview with a big publication. Nonetheless, John treated this interview with much of the same respect as seasoned reporters from The Patriot Ledger or Boston Globe. Sadly, John passed away suddenly a few weeks ago, and I’m sharing this assignment in tribute to him. His establishment has remained closed since its owner’s demise, and its continuance is still in negotiation and undetermined. I hope John’s dream can be continued with the same panache and charm as what he brought to it. But more importantly, I pray for the solace of John Magraw’s family, friends, and colleagues. My words now or those from four years ago cannot change any outcomes, but I hope they show the world how he’d molded my own aspirations as well as his own. ~SD

Unchained Pizza Profile: Interview w/ John T. Magraw. October 4, 2017

Though the final days of summer loomed, the communities of West Quincy, Wollaston, East Milton and surrounding areas nonetheless found something triumphant as daylight hours dwindled—Unchained Pizza, a neighborhood cornerstone since 2010, had finally reopened.

The restaurant, located at 550 Adams Street in the West Quincy strip mall Adams Plaza, had been shuttered for two years after a top-heavy snow pile on the roof left the location unsafe for business in February 2015. The collapse additionally affected other businesses in the plaza, such as Dunkin’ Donuts, next door to Unchained to its left, and the UPS Store, adjacent on its right. The section was ultimately demolished and rebuilt, however, the section containing the plaza’s two other tenants, In Sync Center of the Arts and Walgreen’s, was saved with little need for renovations.

In the meantime, Walgreen’s customers were encouraged to visit their location on 418 Quincy Avenue in South Quincy. Those who desired a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts were directed towards the 545 Adams Street location in East Milton Square. Though it was not the only vendor who directed its patrons towards such area—the East Milton Post Office at 499 Adams Street provided UPS service to those who usually would have gotten it at Adams Plaza.

Though a majority of damage was composed toward the UPS location, Unchained was the last of the tenants to reopen after the snowfall. Walgreen’s and the In-Sync Center of the Arts reopened within a few months, with Dunkin’ Donuts returning shortly thereafter, coupled with the UPS store. John Magraw, owner of Unchained Pizza, suspects that notoriety of his neighbors provided swifter accommodations.

 “I feel a place like Dunkin’ Donuts, as a large chain, has a bit more pull and sway to reopen as opposed to a local pizza shop,” he said in a recent phone interview. He additionally noted that construction was done on an individual, store-by-store basis. He further cites insurance claims as an obstacle.

Eventually, progress prevailed after a year and a half. While Unchained still remained unable to utilize its Adams Street location, Magraw applied for a permit to open an alternate site on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester. The alternate location opened up in September 2016.

Additionally, frequenters were encouraged to sign up for the restaurant’s email newsletter. Once done, they were invited to VIP grand opening party at the new restaurant.

Though the approximate six-mile drive seemed burdensome for Quincy locals who are situated a few blocks away from Adams Plaza, “any port in the storm” seems an appropriate attitude for a community on the bay.

“People were going the Dorchester location until the Quincy one opened,” Magraw recalled. Indeed, community loyalty remains extraordinarily pronounced. The crowded dinner rush is noted, even as early as 5pm on a weekday.

Though pizza is the restaurant’s titular dish, other fare is quite prominent. Aidan DeBonis, a 16-year-old junior at Quincy High School, is especially keen on the macaroni and cheese bites.

“They’re so crispy, cheesy, and good,” he said.

Aidan’s father, Paul, works as a customer service agent at the MBTA. When he is positioned at any of the Quincy stations, he occasionally visits Unchained for lunch.

“I really like the salads there,” Paul said. “The chicken taco one especially. The chipotle ranch dressing is a nice touch.”

His daughters, Nora, 20, and Sheila, 21, are enthusiastic about trying every specialty pizza at its introduction. One of their favorites is the baja chicken, complete with chicken, bacon, and onions, garnished with a drizzle of barbeque sauce and chipotle dressing.

Their mother, Eileen Lawlor, is more simplistic. “I think a pizza should taste like a pizza,” she said. By this, she means the marinara and cheese should not be overpowered by other things.If given a choice between any specialty, she opts for the Margharita. Otherwise, single-topping is much more desired, with mushroom being her favorite.

Additionally, due to the success the restaurant had achieved during the five years prior to its hiatus, the definition of community became increasingly broad. Testimonials accumulated far and wide.

“We miss our favorite pizza place even though you don’t deliver to Hough’s Neck,” wrote Shirley B., a customer who resides in the southeast peninsula of the city, during the restaurant’s prolonged closure. “It’s worth the car trip for pick up. Hurry back.”

Though their customer base does not only span within the opposite ends of the city. The user locations of Yelp reviews alone provide some insight. A few hail from Boston, Brookline, Elmwood, Medford, Hingham, and Bridgewater. Though this list does not consider the reviews coming from out of state, such as Rochester, NY; Pasadena, CA; Medford, OR; or Pawtucket, RI. One visitor was even from Canada.

The owner notes a warm embrace from his usual customers despite the obstacles. One would never suspect the restaurant had been out of commission for so long.

“My biggest takeaway from all of this is that business has picked up again really quickly with little to no marketing,” Magraw said. After a brief of pause to consider, he reveals an admission. “Well, I suppose social media and word-of-mouth contributed, but that’s really it.”

Though business has restarted thus far with little official commemoration, there will eventually be a ribbon cutting, planned with assistance by the Quincy Chamber of Commerce. Further, the restaurant requires one last grill installation, which is currently in process.

“As of now, we’re really trying to master what we’ve got going on and focus on the necessities,” Magraw asserted.

Unchained Pizza is located along the Furnace Brook, at the corner of Adams Street and Alrick Road. For further information, visit unchainedpizza.com.

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