In downtown Alma you can find many things that have changed, but one thing that has stayed the same for over 50 years is Pizza Sam's. Owner Sam Ortisi is an authentic Cicilian, but originally started out in Detroit. "I came to Alma to go into business and work in the winter and close in the summer," he says. That's because at that time everyone left town in the summer. "Then the following year the economy changed, and we never ended up closing." He must have liked the town, because he's stayed opened ever since. Now his wife, son and grandson all work at the store.
Alma College Director of Alumni Engagement Lou Ecken explains the unique and special relationship Pizza Sam's has developed with the college. "We have alumni who love Pizza Sams so much they come back and the first thing they wanna do is stop here at Pizza Sam's," Ecker says. "Yesterday I was on Facebook and an alumnus said for their status, 'I want some Sam's', so it's a pretty common thing to hear alums talking about Pizza Sam's as one of the strongest memories of the college."
Katie Brady is a teen from the nearby town of St. Louis and she says the pizza joint has been part of her life from a young age. "I had two surprise birthday parties here," she said, "and after football and basktetball games it's always like 'let's go to Sam's'". She says the atmosphere makes the place unique, being always packed on Fridays and Saturdays, but the pizza is the reason people keep coming back.
Everyone here seems to know their exact order. When asked Ecken, who is an Alma College alum herself did not miss a beat. "Double-crust with pineapples and mushroons", she said. Sam says their unique pizza with fresh ingredients is a big reason for the success. "We use the good stuff not junk," he laughs. He shared a story where he once ordered 18 or 20 cases of cheese be sent back because it was too old.
In the time we visited we met several current and former employees, some who had worked there from the time they were teenagers. It's a place everyone in the community takes pride in. So if you're in Alma for the Highland Festival check out a pizza institution, Pizza Sam's.