Pat Newell was well down the path towards a very different career when his younger brother, Brendan, approached him with a novel proposal back in 2005: “How’d you like to go into business with me?” he asked.
Seven years later, the Newell brothers — and their business partner Dave Bolduc— have built on the success of Pat’s Pizza & Catering of Lower Mills, the always-slammed and always-reliable Dot Ave. eatery that churns out enough pizza pies, steak tip dinners, wraps and salads to feed half of Dorchester and the south shore.
At least, that’s what it seems like when you’re on the hungry side of their counter on any given day of the week. That’s one measure of Pat’s popularity. Another equally unscientific one is the Reporter’s recent survey of readers (mostly done online), who ranked Pat’s as the best pizza and lunch spot in the neighborhood.
Another indicator of a successful food business: kitchen staff who stay on for years and years, despite the daily grind of churning out food for the masses.
“The key to success, for us, is good help. That’s what makes this viable week to week,” says Pat, a 45 year-old who cut his teeth in the business working at Lambert’s and Stop & Shop. “Some of these guys have been here for 10 or 15 years, well before me. You treat your help good and they treat you good in return. They respect that and it shows in the quality of the food. And that’s so important. Word of mouth goes a long way in this business.”
Brendan was the first to join the business back in the 1990s, when former owner Pat McDonough was just one week in as the new owner. The pizza shop— which was known as Paul’s before McDonough took ownership— was in a different, smaller space across Dot Ave. at the time. Brendan was still a teenager who’d already worked for several years in the catering business with a Lower Mills business, Friends Catering, that used to operate out of an old Knights of Columbus Hall on River Street.
“I started working there seven days after Pat McDonough took it over,” recalls Brendan, a St. Greg’s graduate who grew up eating and hanging out in the village. “We used to play basketball with Pat up [Dot] park and one day I just went in and asked him if he needed help.”
McDonough seized on the 17 year-old Newell’s experience in catering and plugged him into a job behind the counter. Brendan followed his father’s footsteps into carpentry for a while, but when work slowed there, he returned to the restaurant business.
When McDonough decided to sell the Lower Mills store, Newell saw a business opportunity he couldn’t pass up. But he needed help from one of his closest friends and advisors.
Pat Newell, for his part, needed some convincing. He had just finished a degree in nursing and was prepared to begin clinical training when Brendan came calling. His father Pat, an Irish immigrant who worked as a carpenter his whole life, encouraged him to join his brother’s venture.
“He sort of talked me into it. It turned out to be a pretty good choice,” Pat recalls. “He and I were like best friends and I really admired his work ethic, as a man who raised seven kids — much of that on his own.”
Pat, Brendan and their siblings (Kathy, Bobby, Aidan, Barry and Erin) suffered a huge loss as youngsters when their mom, Rose, suffered a debilitating stoke and slipped into a coma. She was in rehab facilities and hospitals for 11 years before she passed away, a siege that was a tough challenge for the whole clan.
“We battled through it,” recalls Brendan, now 40, himself married (to grade school classmate Suzanne Switzer) with one young child and another on the way.
Running a business with his older brother never crossed his mind— but Brendan says it’s been a good fit. The two are rarely on duty behind the counter at the same time. They shift off to give each other a break— but one or the other is almost always working.
“There’s good days and bad days,” acknowledges Pat, who also has a young family of his own. “Sometimes I don’t want the responsibility that comes with having 35 employees, but overall it’s been good.
“I enjoy working in the same neighborhood where I grew up and seeing people I knew back then come back. And I like getting to know new people and making a connection with each one as often as I can.”
Brendan agrees that the flow of faces and personalities that pass in front of his counter— and in the kitchen behind him— are his favorite parts of the job.
“We have a great set of employees from all different nationalities,” says Newell. “I like the camaraderie. I have some people who come in three times a day, sometimes every day.”
The catering side of Pat’s has also “taken off” over the last few years, according to Pat Newell, who says that the South Shore has proven to be fertile ground for this Dorchester-based business. They are frequently called upon to service parties as far south as Marshfield, many of them — but not all— hosted by OFDers who have a fierce loyalty to the old neighborhood.
Both brothers are also excited about the positive turn they’ve seen in Lower Mills in recent years. The opening of new restaurants, led by the Ledge across the street and the not-yet-open bakery-café The Sweet Life, is good news, they say, for them and other local merchants.
“When Ledge opened it brought more new faces to the community and a lot of their customers are people who may have a drink there and then come here or Mrs. Jones or Taste of Thailand to order food,” says Brendan.
“I wish my yard looked like that,” he says of the Ledge’s back patio dining space.
His older brother agrees.
“The more quality businesses you have, the better for more foot traffic. Lower Mills is the best neighborhood in Dorchester and then you have Milton right here which is a huge advantage. We’re very fortunate. And because we can do a party for 200 people or just a one in a couple of hours notice, we’re a popular choice.”