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In 1979 Charleston, composer Gian Carlo Menotti debuted his opera "The Medium" at the Spoleto Festival, Hurricane David threatened to smack Charleston's shores, and a little pizza and hoagie place called Norm's opened on Calhoun Street. For three-plus decades it served Harleston Villagers, MUSC staffers, and plenty of CofC co-eds, but around Thanksgiving last year, Norm's long-run quietly came to a close.
That's when Dave Uecke, most recently of Chick's Fry House, and business partners Nick and Ben D'Allesandro, of D'Al's, saw an opportunity. The three have taken over Norm's from Norman and Susan Hanf and reworked 225 Calhoun St. into Smith Street Pizza.
"We're doing Philly-style pan pizza — it's not quite as greasy as Detroit style, not quite as sloppy as Grandma style," says Uecke. "There’s a whole level of weirdness when we get into square pizzas."
Uecke says square style pizzas are what he grew up with in Northeast Ohio.
"Nobody was doing square pizza down here," says Uecke. "I think there’s one place in Mt. Pleasant. But for me, this is the style I grew up with and saw it exploding in other markets right now. For us, with the college and hospital right there, this let's us do slices. A slice of cheese is $3 and with toppings $3.50."
But he's not ditching Norm's signature hoagies. They are getting a revamp, however. "Normandy Farms is doing the hoagie roll with classic sesame seeds. Our hoagie is 8 inch for $8. We've got your italian, deli subs, turkey, ham, meatball and chicken parm," he adds.
Keeping prices affordable is all part of the owners' plan. "We've kept the base formula of pizzas, hoagies, wings, salads. The goal is to hit the meal, drink, tax for $10 mark. That's a lot tougher to find in Charleston now. That $10 mark is what we want to sit at," he says.
Smith Street Pizza Instagram
Of course, as much as Uecke and the D'Alessandro brothers want to keep the laid back local feel of the place, good prices and all, some changes were inevitable, like a paint job.
"We reinstated it to about 2000-era vintage Norm's," says Uecke. "We put the classic pizzeria booths back in, gave it a coat of paint. We put the pool table back in and in that back area there used to be a cutout window we built that out for a bar. It will sit 10 at the bar."
But even with the renovation, confusion remains for some customers who have been going to Norm's for years.
"It’s tough to go into a place that’s been open for 30 years," says Uecke. "There’s a lot of history that gets built up. When they finally closed, they had a really large menu at that point. We’ve had every request under the sun — gyros to cheeseburgers to fish sandwiches, everything not related to pizza."
Needless to say, you won't be able to get a fish sandwich at Smith Street Pizza. However, if you're looking for a cheap square of 'za, they'll have you covered.