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Partners Andrew Palmieri and Robert Sheridan have been working in pizza restaurants since they were young teens.
"At 15, I started bussing tables at Illiano's in Old Lyme," said Palmieri, now 29, and the co-owner with Sheridan of three pizza restaurants of their own. "I bussed, watched over the counter, and started making pizza."
Palmieri would later work at pizza places in Middletown and Waterford before at age 21 buying a share of the Illiano's location in New London, where he would work another two years before setting out on his own.
When Palmieri opened a pizza place with his name on the door in Putnam, Sheridan went with him. They stayed there three years, Palmieri sold the place, and together they opened Palmieri's New York Style Pizza in Clinton in December 2012, then a satellite shop in Killingworth in March 2013, and last November another pizzeria at 316 Boston Post Road in Waterford.
And the two East Lyme natives are eyeing other potential locations in Niantic and North Branford.
Sheridan, 23, works equally as hard as his partner, Palmieri, and said that is what is required to succeed.
"I work about eight days a week. I work long days every day. I've done that since I was 16," said Sheridan, who studied landscape design in the vocational-agricultural program at Ledyard High School, where he graduated in 2008.
Palmieri graduated from East Lyme High School in 2002, and said by that time he was working full-time at Illiano's and knew it was the kind of work he wanted to do.
"Dealing with people is what I like the best," said Palmieri, a married father of two small children. "I like getting feedback from people, and pleasing people. I like making people's experience here more than just a transaction."
At the Waterford Palmieri's location in the Jordan Brook Plaza, employees from the adjacent businesses and coffee shop, as well as regular customers who stop to eat in or pick up take-out, find a full-service menu with everything from appetizers and salads to stuffed breads, grinders, pizzas and entrees like penne Alfredo with chicken and broccoli.
"We're local, we grew up here," said Palmieri, explaining one reason they opened a store in Waterford. That, and both men now make their home in Waterford.
This fall, they'll run the concession stand for the town's youth football program, and have contributed to other worthwhile causes. They also sponsor three cars at the Waterford Speedbowl.
Seven employees are split between the three businesses and Sheridan and Palmieri said the only impediment to opening additional locations is finding good, trustworthy employees willing to put in long hours.
Every day, they make their own sauces and pizza dough and bread is delivered fresh from a bakery in the Bronx. When a customer orders a pizza pie, they watch as a ball of dough is hand-stretched into a classic pie topped with any number of combinations.
A house favorite is the Buffalo barbecue pizza with bacon and red onions.
"It's heaven, all the way," said Sheridan, who admits he has at least one slice of pizza every day.
Another popular item is the BLT on garlic bread, and there are classic pasta dishes, hot and cold grinders, and side dishes like sweet potato fries and mozzarella sticks.
Both men said they enjoy being their own boss and are willing to work hard with the goal of being in a better position later on in life.
"This is the kind of job, either you enjoy it, or you won't make it," said Palmieri, who admitted that between work, family and early mornings at the gym, there is little time for much else.
"I'll have plenty of time later on to have fun in life," said Sheridan, who admitted that by the time he gets to the gym late at night, the place is deserted.
"It's a beautiful thing, being all alone there," he said.
But at work, the two are all about pleasing customers with their food and congeniality.
"When we make people happy, it shows we're doing something right," said Sheridan.
What: Palmieri's New York Style Pizza
Who: Andrew Palmieri and Robert Sheridan
Where: 316 Boston Post Road, Waterford (also in Clinton and Killingworth)
Employees: 7 (at the three locations)
Phone for Waterford: (860) 437-3730