When You’re Gone: La Pizzeria owners Bill and Marina Kosmopoulos to retire at the end of July

Marina and Bill Kosmopoulos at the counter of La Pizzeria, surrounded by Avril Lavigne memorabilia. The Napanee couple is officially retiring after 43 years in the restaurant business on July 31. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

Adam Prudhomme

Bill and Marina Kosmopoulos will serve their final slice of pizza later this month, wrapping up 43 years of ownership of the Napanee landmark known as La Pizzeria.

For generations of customers, the cramped quarters of 17 Dundas Street W have been the spot to go to for comfort food-whether it was NDSS students on lunch break or parents picking up a ready made family dinner.

On July 31, the Kosmopoulos family will hand the keys over to a new owner-though the business will continue on as a pizzeria.

“I told him we lasted 43 years, he should be able to last another 43,” said Bill of the incoming owner. “He’s young.”

For the Kosmopoulos family, who opened shop in April of 1981, its been a long time coming. They first made local shockwaves when they announced plans to sell the business in 2018.

With retirement now just weeks away, Bill reflected back on the humble beginnings, never imagining this venture would last half as long as it did.

“I thought maybe five or 10 years,” he said of how long he thought the restaurant would endure. “I’ve had three kids that have grown up here, went to high school here. Now they’re all gone.”

“We’re getting too old for this,” chimes in Maria from behind the counter.

Good food and great customer service has always been their recipe for success-‘a satisfied customer, is a repeat customer,’ says Bill. One happy-and rather famous-customer in particular was a huge help in contributing to their longevity. Avril Lavigne’s famous love of their pizza has translated to international recognition for the Napanee couple.

Photos from Avril Lavigne’s many visits to La Pizzeria iver the years decorate the walls. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

One can’t help but notice Avril Lavigne memorabilia in the shop window, all along the walls and behind the counter. Posters and photos-all signed by Lavigne, pay tribute to her favourite hang-out place from back in the day. As she rose to fame in the early 2000s, she was always quick to give them a shoutout whenever asked about her life back in Napanee. Her fans took notice and would make the trip from all corners of the globe to visit La Pizzeria.

“She put us on the map,” said Bill. “Everybody knows us all over the world because of Avril.”

Long before she was a pop-rock super star, slamming on her guitar, she was a nine-year-old girl, tagging along with her parents and enjoying her favourite pizza toppings: pepperoni, mushroom and olives. Into her teens, on the cusp of superstardom, she’d make the trek from NDSS to have a slice and even had her own seat in this restaurant, which she has since signed with an autograph that can still be seen today.

Avril Lavigne’s favourite spot in La Pizzeria as a teen. Years later she autographed the chair during one of her visits. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

“Her father and mother, we knew them for years, we keep in touch all the time,” said Bill. “Whenever she comes around everyone calls us. She’s coming to Toronto in August, her mother calls and says ‘you want to come?’ I said we’ve sold, we don’t know where we’re going to be. If we have time, we’ll be there.”

Often times when her touring career brought her to the area she’d stop in to visit the Kosmopoulos. Many of the photos on the wall are of times she stopped by after making it big.

“She’s still the same girl we knew,” said Marina.

As they begin to wind down their operation, they express gratitude to all the loyal customers they’ve had over the years. They express remorse over the fact that they’ll be retired before school resumes in September, meaning they won’t see a lot of their high school patrons.

La Pizzeria has been a fixture on Napanee’s Dundas Street for 43 years. Though the business has been sold, it will remain under new ownership. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

“We’re going to miss all of them, especially the high school kids,” Marina said of the customers, joking that she may consider taking a job with the new owner just to see old faces again.

The building hasn’t just been their place of work, but it has also been their home for over 30 years. Though they will be moving out, they aren’t going far, with plans to stay with their daughter in Napanee. From there they plan to spend a few months visiting family in Greece and then find a permanent place to settle in the Napanee area.

“We’ll be around,” adds Bill.

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