Some people have survived the pandemic by gorging themselves on pizza. Jerry Benedetto took a slightly different path: He’s spent quarantine making pizza, and leaves the gorging to friends and strangers—while raising money for nonprofits.

Benedetto, who moved into a townhouse in Southeast Portland about 18 months ago, says Portland is full of great pizza, but not the kind he grew up eating in Chicago.

He works for a cannabis edibles company now, after stints as a high school teacher and working in a brewery in Wisconsin. But what really makes him happy is trying to re-create the thin-crust, square-cut pies of his youth—what he considers true Chicago-style pizza.

“Deep dish is not something I grew up eating,” he says. “That’s not what we eat in Chicago.”

IMAGE: Courtesy of Jerry Benedetto.
IMAGE: Courtesy of Jerry Benedetto.

Benedetto worked in a pizzeria in high school, but it wasn’t until COVID-19 created unanticipated downtime for him that he started baking his own. At first, he couldn’t find yeast, so he tried premade dough from Trader Joe’s. But soon, he got the ingredients he needed. He repurposed his grandmother’s pasta sauce recipe and started making his own sausage.

After Benedetto posted a few pictures on Instagram, people wanted to place orders. He’s filled about 300 so far, which he takes through direct messages on social media and delivers via a contactless pickup process. The most popular is the “Jerry Special” with bulk sausage, pepperoni, mushroom and a side of hot giardiniera.

But Benedetto says he’s not running a business.

“There are no financial transactions,” he says. “I don’t charge.”

Rather, if people make a donation, he deducts the cost of ingredients and sends the balance—about $450 so far—to two nonprofits: Mealsonuspdx and My Block, My Hood, My City in Chicago.

Benedetto might insist he is not running a business, but he’s not ruling out starting his own pizzeria in the future.

“I’ve had chefs tell me, ‘You need to do something with this,’” he says. “A business is going to happen.”

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