Pasquale's welcomes you to the neighborhood
"Let's break bread together." That's the message from Chef Pasquale Presa, owner of Pasquale's Neighborhood Pizzeria in downtown Rochester. Since opening in 2016, Pasquale and his staff have made it their mission to create an authentic neighborhood hangout — one focused on building relationships with customers, regardless of whether they live in the apartments upstairs or have traveled thousands of miles to be in Rochester.
“When I first moved here in 2010, I realized that in order to be in this city you have to get out and be part of the community," says Pasquale. “We are a compassionate city. We care for people from all over the world.”
Pasquale explains how just the other night an employee told him that his mother, who works in an emergency room, had brought up how busy they had been that night treating patients with the flu.
“I used that opportunity to put a smile on their face," he says. "We have leftover pizza at the end of the night. I could easily throw it away. But you know what, I know our pizzas reheat better and even taste good cold.”
He adds, “For us, we do it because we’re able to do it.”
It's that sense of community that makes Rochester a welcoming place for the millions of people who travel here each year. It's also a key component to making downtown a vibrant and family-friendly destination for locals and visitors alike.
“What’s nice here is you see a lot of regulars," says Kelli Klingbeil, the sous chef at Pasquale's. "You see people coming in two-three times a week — and you get to know them by name. It’s a real home-type of feel here.”
Often greeting customers is Father Nick Mezacapa. He knows a thing or two about bringing people together. For nearly three decades, he was a priest at Calvary Episcopal Church, where he served as the rector of the congregation.
The church — the oldest in Rochester — is centered in the heart of downtown, just steps from the Gonda Building. The proximity to the Mayo Clinic campus gave Father Nick the chance to meet medical patients traveling here from all over.
“Being right there, in the middle of the Mayo campus, it was one of those congregational experiences where I didn’t have to search for a mission," recalls Father Nick. "It was kind of a given. You’re right there. The door’s open for people here from around the world with medical issues.”
Father Nick retired from the priesthood two years ago, but it wasn't long before he realized, "sitting around is really not my thing."
"I tried it," he says. "It looked like fun. But I really missed the interaction with people, because I had done that my whole career. I had been a teacher, then went into the priesthood — and just missed being around people.”
Rich Kramer spent his career in the radio business before joining Pasquale's, where he does a little bit of everything — from pouring beer to running the register. He says his most important job, though, is interacting with people.
“You learn about them, their families," he says. "Everybody has a story."
Kramer, who also works with seniors through the Elder Network, has a story of his own — one he often shares with customers. His family moved to Rochester in 1966 after his father was injured. He says doctors here saved his father's life.
“I enjoy building relationships with people, especially at this age," says Rich. "You find out it’s not the material things; it’s the people you meet. And I’ve met so many awesome people here.”
Adds Father Nick, "This restaurant wants to reach into the community, no matter ethnicity, religious background, whatever it might be. This place is open and inviting, and is striving to be part of the neighborhood.”
Photography by William Forsman