WHEN You’re 105…
…Maybe You Can Have Free Pizza Party!
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
WEST ONEONTA – Ritchie Egan and his wife Penny Trimble believe that the secret to a long life might just be pepperoni pizza – perhaps from their Pizza 23 West shop.
“When we opened in December 2013, Harry and Barb Martin were our first customers,” said Egan. “Harry’s mom, Rhoda Martin, was turning 99 that year, and he ordered some pepperoni pizza for her.”
Egan made a bet with him – if she celebrated her 105th birthday at Pizza 23 West, the pizzeria would cater the whole thing free.
“The only catch was she had to come in here on her own,” he said. “No ordering it and taking it to her.”
As each year passed, the centenarian-plus ordered a pepperoni pizza for her birthday, and this November, Harry came in to make plans for the party.
“I told him we could hold 80 people,” said Egan, “and the only thing they would have to pay for are drinks.
“He sent out the invitations.”
On Nov. 16, five generations of the Martin family gathered at the restaurant to dine on 20 pizzas — including their special “Grandma” pizza, made with smashed tomatoes, garlic and fresh basil – “the way they make it in Italy,” said Egan.
“We got her two cakes, and when I walked the first one over to her, she said, ‘I can’t cut this,’” said Trimble. “I told her I’d cut it for her, and when everyone was done taking pictures, I went to take it back to the kitchen – and she said, ‘Wait, don’t I get any?’ She’s so funny.”
At 105, Rhoda is believed to be the oldest resident of Otsego County. Born Nov. 21, 1914, in Rhode Island to parents who immigrated from England and Italy, she moved to Hell Hollow Road in 1957 to the home where she raised eight children and still resides independently.
“She lived through the Depression, two world wars, Vietnam, so many tough times,” said Egan. “She’s seen so much in her lifetime, and she’s such a nice lady.”
“She told us that she distinctly remembers the Hurricane of 1938 in Connecticut!” said Trimble. (Among other things, on landfall near New Haven it destroyed Katherine Hepburn’s summer home at Old Saybrook.)
Egan and Trimble opened the pizzeria Dec. 22, 2013, after moving up from The Bronx. “We had a pizzeria in Midtown, but it cost me $550 to park my car,” he said. “My lease was coming up, so we sold the pizzeria and moved up here.”
They took over the former Long Island Pizzeria, which had been Millie’s before that. Trimble painted the walls in between phone calls and little by little, Long Island turned into Pizza 23 West.
“My delivery guy thought I was crazy,” he said. “But he came back six months later and we had doubled our business.”
With its proximity to Cooperstown All-Star Village, it’s popular with baseball teams and families, and in the winter it’s the go-to spot for West Oneontans in need of pizza and wings for the game, as well as Italian specialties and subs.
And on her actual birthday, Nov. 21, Rhoda came in and ordered another pepperoni pizza. “I told her I’ll make her one every year on her birthday,” he said. “And when she turns 110, I’ll throw her another party.”
“I think that pizza is the secret to a long life,” he joked.