If it’s lunchtime in Cambridge, there’s a good chance you’ll find Lyndon Fuller dropping off pizza at area establishments like Savenor’s Market and Turnstyle Cycle.
Fuller isn’t your average delivery guy—in fact, he’s not a delivery guy at all. He’s the manager of Emma’s Pizza (40 Hampshire St.), and these pizzas are on the house. The surprise lunch drop offs have become a part of his routine, and he gets genuine joy out of sharing Emma’s pies with other locals.
“We like to be really neighborly,” Fuller says. “We’re very honored that the neighborhood has taken to us so well, and that’s our thank you for being part of it.”
Emma’s has been a community staple for more than 54 years, though that community hasn’t always been Kendall Square. The restaurant was founded at Revere Beach in 1962 and later moved to Huron Village. Hampshire Street has been its home for the last 14 years.
How has this pizzeria been able to survive for more than five decades in the notoriously fickle restaurant business? For one, the staff is always looking toward the future. Emma’s has historically resisted offering delivery, citing the environmental impact of fossil fuels, but they recently enlisted a fleet of bike couriers to drop off pies. They’re looking into food trucks, and new head chef James Sklaver is working on a gluten-free menu that will include inventive options like a habanero chicken salad.
“We’re kind of in a renaissance right now,” Fuller says. “It’s an exciting time.”
But while Emma’s is exploring decidedly 21st-century trends like gluten-free options and food trucks, their commitment to tradition is as strong as ever. Photos of previous Emma’s owners and staffers line the shop’s front wall, and when asked about the restaurant’s history, Fuller ducks into a back room and returns with a black-and-white photo—safely preserved in a plastic bag—of the old Huron Avenue location. The kitchen just honored beloved local establishments—both current favorites, like T.T. The Bear’s and the Middle East, and those long gone, like ManRay nightclub—by naming each pizza on the menu after community staples. Even Fuller’s surprise visits to deliver pro bono pizzas seem like something from a bygone, “Cheers”-type era, when friends and relatives would pop by without warning just to say hello.
“It really is a big family,” Fuller notes. “When guests come in off the street, it’s like this is their dining room. They’re part of the family as well.” The restaurant does have a familial feel, right down to its decor: the walls are covered with pizza paddles designed and painted by neighbors, community members and Emma’s fans. Designer Matt Heller is a friend of Emma’s current owner, Jeffrey Weingast, and years ago he designed a few just for fun. The idea took off, and the restaurant now has dozens of paddles—so many, in fact, that some must be kept in storage and subbed in to the rotation. Recently, a group visiting Cambridge from Alberta, Canada stopped by the shop with a paddle they painted together before their trip. These little works of art make Emma’s a comfortable, homey place, as if the walls are the fridge and these are children’s drawings (that is, if the kids had a real eye for design and knew how to operate a laser cutter).
Proclamations about how the restaurant runs like a family might sound even cheesier than the pizza itself, but at Emma’s, it rings true. Some of the cooks and members of the waitstaff have been with the shop for more than 14 years, proof of the closeness of this group. While discussing how the customers are a big part of what makes Emma’s feel so close-knit, Fuller pulls out his phone like a proud father and begins scrolling through hundreds of photos of the shop. Here’s a picture of the couple who stopped by Emma’s immediately after saying their marriage vows at City Hall; there’s a snapshot Chef Sklaver teaching a group of young kids how to make their own dough.
Reconciling the restaurant’s rich history with the modern age can be challenging. “We’re here to deliver Emma’s,” their website proclaims, “both as it was intended, and sometimes not so much.” But with their roots in the past and an eye toward the future, Emma’s will likely be serving the Cambridge community for years to come.
“This isn’t a job for me,” Fuller says. “Pizza is a passion. We really want to emphasize that the pie is love.”