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After closing popular pizza shop, Bob and Mary Boisvert search for another slice of life

  • Bob Boisvert and his wife, Mary, stand in the nearly empty Donatellos on Wednesday, November 17, 2021 after they closed the restaurant at the end of October after 19 years of serving the Concord community. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Bob Boisvert and his wife, Mary, stand in the nearly empty Donatello’s on Wednesday, after they closed the restaurant at the end of October after 19 years of serving the Concord community. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Bob Boisvert and his wife, Mary, stand in the nearly empty Donatellos on Wednesday, November 17, 2021 after they closed the restaurant at the end of October after 19 years of serving the Concord community. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Donatello’s owner Bob Boisvert adds green peppers to a super dominator. Monitor file

  • Donatello's owner Bob Boisvert puts a super dominator, loaded with pepperoni, sausage and green pepper, in the oven. TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 11/17/2021 2:48:44 PM

Bob Boisvert saw firsthand that his business did more than merely sell pizza the past 19 years.

Before he locked the door at Donatello’s for good on Halloween, people came to say goodbye, adding an extra topping to the menu that day, and through the final week of October:

Tears. In some cases, extra tears.

They hugged Bob and his wife, Mary, and they cried and they showed that a nondescript little pizza place in a nondescript little strip mall could mean a lot to a community.

They thanked the couple for giving their children their first jobs, mentoring them in the business world and in customer relations, hiring them later part-time while they pursued their dreams, and sponsoring local sports teams.

“We had to shut the phone off so we could handle all the business at the front door,” Boisvert said. “They’d sit there with my wife and sob for a half-hour. This turned out to be more than I thought, that we were less a restaurant and more a big part of the community.”

The Donatello’s era in Penacook ended on Oct. 31, 19 years to the day that the Boisverts opened what became a fixture in this village landscape. Bob is 69 and had planned to retire at 70.

He’s been fighting cancer for the past 18 months, and although he says he feels good and he’s hoping to be declared cancer-free soon, five surgeries took a toll.

Two other factors forced him to retire a year early: The sudden disappearance of high school and college students looking for work, and the subsequent impact that COVID had on that already-shrinking job market.

“In the past, people move on and we then fill in on the bottom with more high school and college kids,” Boisvert said. “With COVID, there was not an influx coming in to work here anymore. As people left, I could not fill up the bottom.”

He continued: “I used to get dozens of applications from high school and college kids and then nothing. It’s a trend, and it was exasperated by COVID.”

He’s lived in Penacook for 35 years. He ran an electric company in Manchester and another in Dover, which led to lengthy business trips to the Dominican Republic.

Eyeing semi-retirement, Boisvert noticed the pizza place in Penacook — called Donatello’s 19 years ago as well — was for sale. He liked the idea. Maybe he and Mary could work there for seven years, sell it, retire and live happily ever after.

“We had no experience in the foodservice business,” Boisvert said. “Donatello’s had such a horrible reputation and we thought if we showed up and cleaned up we could improve it.”

Looks like they did, but their run went far beyond the seven years that had been planned. Business was good. Boisvert said his business grew each year until the crash in 2008.

He steadied the ship and acknowledged his new challenges. The operation cut back a tad, but that set off nearly a dozen years of solid footing.

“We shrunk and then we sort of leveled off,” Boisvert said. “We had such a good reputation that we let it run and we operated it and it’s been a good living for our family, me and my wife and my son.”

It was a place to go at lunchtime for chicken parmesan sandwiches for a group of knuckleheads from the old Monitor sports staff, after the old guy (me) had turned into the Dominator on the basketball court at Rolfe Park, swatting the young kids’ shots away (not really).

And speaking of the Dominator, that was a big deal at Donatello’s, measuring 24 inches in diameter. Boisvert sold the 28-inch Super Dominator as well, naming both after one of the drivers in his golf bag.

“We wanted to do something different, so we came up with something no one else had,” Boisvert said. “We searched and the largest pizza we could get through the oven was 28 inches.”

The Super Dominator was Concord’s biggest pizza and required a steady hand to transport it.

“It didn’t always fit through the doors of the cars,” Boisvert said.

His giant pizzas were a big hit at kids’ birthday parties and school events. Big families liked them, too.

Those days are done but the memories of this little gathering spot remain.

“We always had one or two people who would come back and worked one or two days a week and also worked full-time,” Boisvert said. “For them, it was like coming back to spend time with family.”

News of the closing drew more than 100 Facebook postings.

“This is the end of an era,” wrote one of the many fans. “Donatello’s shaped my youth in SO many ways. Without Bob and Mary, my life certainly wouldn’t be the same.”

The writing had been on the wall since pre-COVID. Then the pandemic made hiring even harder. The staff dwindled, pushing Boisvert back in time, to the 100-hour workweeks he thought were long gone.

“Physically I could not do it anymore,” he said.

He spent 21 days in the hospital after his last cancer surgery, around the time COVID hit, rehabbing and recovering. He’s checked every three months to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned.

And after a successful and impactful career selling pizza in Penacook, Boisvert sounded like a businessman who was ready to put his feet up.

“I have been the guy in charge for the last 35-plus years,” Boisvert said. “I don’t want to be the boss anymore.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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