Cecila Hollins was just a senior year teen when she first got a job at The Pizza Shack, a pizza parlor founded by Michael Parker and Larry Emmett. It’s been a Belhaven staple for nearly 15 years, and she’s been part of its fabric, on and off, for the last 10.
She came aboard in 2009. Her husband, Tony, joined the team in 2011.
Since July 2017, the Hollins have been owners of The Pizza Shack, keeping up the tasty traditions in specialty flavor combos and pile-it-on generosity and, now, about to expand with a location and some pastas on the horizon.
“We always had a passion for it,” Cecila says.
The Pizza Shack tucks between Fenian’s Irish Pub and Kat’s Wine Cellar on Fortification Street, with panels that sport the green, white and red of the Italian flag. Parking places up front cater to its brisk take-out business, but inside the small spot, tables and booths catch the folks who want to sit a spell, have a draft or bottled beer and enjoy their pizza pie in place.
Cecila started her pizza career in the kitchen.
“The kitchen is my place. I love it. I love being the boss,” she says, recounting management roles that assured everything ran right. That’s a skill set she brought from home, taking care of younger siblings. “I was used to running things. … once I got that position as manager of the back, it gave me that feel of a mother figure.
“I remember my first day working. I took the menu home because I was so passionate about Mike and Larry’s business. … I wanted to be able to perfect everything I was learning.” Her initiative and dedication stood out.
Tony, too, brought a determination to the table. “I had to do a good job, and I did,” he says.
After Emmett’s 2012 death following a battle with cancer, Parker put in another five years running The Pizza Shack with former business partner Ryan Patrick before deciding it was time to pass the reins to the next generation. He’d known Cecila since her middle school years, and her friendship with his niece. The young couple — Cecila, 28, and Tony, 30 — had the passion for the place and could expand the business as he’d always dreamed.
Cecila put her business administration degree from Jackson State University to work as an owner. “It pushed me to use it and understand it — just get it together so we could run it better,” she says.
“I’m more of the muscle,” Tony says of staying on top of day-to-day operations. “Well, she’s muscle, too,” he adds with a laugh. “She’s the boss.” They still step up and step in, to do anything that needs doing, she says.
Pizza options abound around town, but Pizza Shack’s secret ingredient always wins fans. Here’s what it is: more.
“I feel like we overload our pizzas,” Cecila says. “We try to keep it the same way that Mike and Larry intended it to be — somewhere you can go to, have a pizza, have a beer and sit down and enjoy old-fashioned pizza, and get the amount for your buck.”
“One thing I always stick with is every ingredient in every bite,” Tony says. Fresh-made dough daily, fresh-cut vegetables and consistency from salads to sandwiches to wings to pizza pies, are signatures. “We pile on the toppings and it made everybody love it.”
Sure enough, the Cajun Joe specialty pizza I get has a deep cushion of tasty ingredients. Chunks of andouille sausage rise like a small mountain range from the landscape of cheesy goodness, amid ribbons of roasted red peppers. Underneath, bright green peppers and red onions nestle, along with seasoned chicken and Cajun marinara. Pack that all in a bite and it’s a flavor fais do-do!
The Italian Cowboy, the Carnivore, Chicken Curry Delight and more crowd a long list in the specialty pizza column. Or build your own. Favorite sandwiches include meatball, turkey melt, Italian sub and plenty more, or create your own there, too. Salads and appetizers are also options.
Recent menu additions include the Philly Cheese Steak pizza, prompted by customer love of their Philly cheesesteak sandwich. The opening of another, bigger The Pizza Shack location in Pearl will bring a chance to introduce some pasta selections (Pizza Shack Madison and The Bank by Pizza Shack in Clinton are unrelated spin-offs from former partner Patrick).
They’ll continue to pile on the tasty bits. And, customers will continue to pile on the love.