SENIOR STAFF WRITER
The Pizza Shoppe Collective, one of the shining stars of the Benson strip, will be closing its doors for good on March 11. Owner Amy Ryan will be leaving to work full time as executive director for the Benson Theatre, citing her primary passion as social work: “I was a counselor for women and children before [The Pizza Shoppe] was given to me.”
She cites AmeriCorps and Habitat for Humanity as organizations she’s worked with. With the Benson Theatre, she hopes to assist artists, non-profits and entrepreneurs in building their business plans.
Visiting the Pizza Shoppe Collective on a typical day, the vibe is calm and the service friendly. There is a bar in front and plenty of booths, all nicely designed. The restaurant is almost never quiet, with the bustle of conversation and the music in the background. It evokes those iconic first lines of the theme to “Cheers.”
Ryan has managed the Pizza Shoppe for 20 years, and it had been a learning process every step of the way.
“I feel that we’re at our best right now,” Ryan said.
Over the years the pizzeria had evolved through trial and error,and Ryan sees it as having aged like a fine wine.
After all these years, Ryan feels she is sending one of her kids off to college.
“When I started, my kids were just babies, and I used to hold them when I would go around waiting tables,” Ryan said.
Will there be a sendoff? Ryan said there really isn’t much focus on one. “We’re really just enjoying feeding people right now,” she said. There will, however, be an auction as the closing date approaches.
The Benson Theatre, Ryan’s new project, will show independent programming and serve as an alternative stage in north Omaha for existing nonprofits, schools and performing arts organizations. Their ultimate fundraising goal is 2.7 million; they have raised 1.5.
It will be quickly replaced, however; David and Brenda Losole will be opening Virtuoso Pizza. They have quite a resume, having seen a great deal of success in south Omaha. David Losole will be leaving his previous restaurant, Lo Sole Mio, for this new project.
This project is promising, Losole is the only certified Pizzaioli in Nebraska to graduate from Tony Gemignani’s International School of Pizza. This is important, as Gemignani’s is the first master instructor in the United States and has won so many awards that he has been inducted into the Guin-ness Book of World Records. Degrees from his school are granted straight from Italy. Gemignani knows pizza better than most; and Losole will do Benson well. Virtuoso Pizza will open in the same building the Pizza Shoppe was once in sometime in April.
Ryan might be leaving the Pizza Shoppe behind, but she is not leaving Benson behind. She hopes to build community and help foster its success even further.
The Pizza Shoppe is as definitively ‘Benson’ as The Waiting Room or any of the bars. It will not be easy to replicate, and the people handling the transition realize this. Other articles reporting on this have described The Pizza Shoppe as being “iconic,” which is wholly apt. This transition will be a next step in the layout of this odd, burgeoning community. March 11 is the official last day of The Pizza Shoppe.