By Marjorie Rice
Every neighborhood needs a place like Stumpy’s Pizza & Subs – a no-frills spot where the food is reliably delicious, the service is friendly and welcoming and you feel like a regular after two visits, the prices reasonable and the setting is on the funky side.
“It’s a throwback,” said owner Chase Herrick, who, with his wife, Debi, has owned Stumpy’s for 18 years.
The place and the people are as local as you can get.
“We’ve been in the restaurant and pizza business all our lives,” Chase said. “Debi is from Northern California and I’m from the Chicago area. We came to the Valley in our teens, graduating from Shadow Mountain High School in the late ‘70s.
“We met at the very first Streets of New York in the Valley, when we worked together, and were high school sweethearts,” Debi said.
“I always wanted to be in the food business – to the disagreement of my father,” Chase said. “I could have gone to school and had a normal job, but I’ve always been kind of an entrepreneur. I never pictured myself being in corporate America, as you can tell from the place – it’s kind of funky.”
Stumpy’s is the kind of place where the owner – and the employees and customers – can feel comfortable in T-shirts, jeans and flip-flops.
The setting is casual, but the food is anything but. No frills, but top-flight ingredients, properly prepared so the pizza crust is thin and blistered with that chewy, yeast-bread quality, and the sauce tastes of fresh tomatoes.
“We have quality food, from our dough to ordering pastrami,” Debi said. “Our dough has molasses and olive oil instead of refined sugar and plain canola oil. It’s nice and crunchy. We use the best tomatoes we can get from California.”
Here, Chase shows his passion for the food, a passion that belies his laid-back persona.
“We only bring our tomatoes in from Northern California – romas and plums from two packers up there who have been doing it for 100 years,” he said. “It’s the dirt – tomatoes that are coming from Stanislaus County are just way better. And we only use Wisconsin cheese.”
Debi said the “No. 1 sandwich” is the crispy hot Italian.
“We use crispy Italian bread, with Italian cold cuts – salami, pepperoni, pastrami, cheese lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mayonnaise and Italian dressing – it’s the best,” Debi said.
“The Italian bread we use is pretty unique,” Chase added, again showing his passion for great foundation products. “It’s from Capistrano’s Bakery. We’ve used them here solely for the whole 18 years. These guys use a little bit of sour starter, so it’s not just plain bread. It’s got an indescribable mystery to it, and I didn’t even realize it at the beginning until I kept asking them. A cult following on that sandwich is our having habanero mayonnaise on it. It’s hot but it’s not going to kill you.”
Pizza and sandwiches top the menu but lasagna and manicotti – with handmade crepes as the base – also are customer favorites.
The lasagna recipe is basic – ground beef, pasta, ricotta, romano, onions, garlic and house-made sauce – but again, the best ingredients.
“We use Polly-o ricotta from New York,” Chase said. “I tasted the ricotta to find the best one – I touch everything every day.”
As with any successful, long-lived eatery, service is as important as the food. At Stumpy’s, you walk in for the third time and the person behind the counter may say, “Hi. You want that pizza you always like?”
“This kind of place is falling by the wayside,” Chase said. “You go into places now and you’re not sure if people even saw you sometimes. We have fun. We have lots of dear customers, and we’ve watched them grow up and their children grow up. You can look on the walls and see their pictures from 18 and 20 years ago.”
Stumpy’s Pizza & Subs, 1331 E. Northern Ave.; is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays, closed Sundays. For information, including deliveries, call 602-957-7540, or visit pizzabystumpys.com.