Teachers rock the patio at Uncommon Pizza
Tucked away with the other businesses in the neighborhood of Kissel Hill Commons, Uncommon Pizza is probably the most unexpected place to find entertainment in Lititz. Yet, on the last Saturday of every month in the summer, patrons gather on the deck for dinner and live music.
A technology teacher by day and a rock star by night, Andy Zellers is always the main act at Uncommon Pizza. On July 25 his audience included three coworkers from Conestoga Valley Middle School.
“We’re his groupies,” said English teacher Sue Fisher, jokingly.
Fisher, Kerry Milvihill and Vicki Henderson sat at a table right by Zellers, enjoying the easy July evening, a month they described as their “Saturday” of summer. Zellers, armed with an acoustic guitar and a microphone, strummed alternative country and classic rock covers. He even mixed in a few original tunes such as “Interstate West.” The deck had a few tables open, but most were filled with families dining and bobbing their heads to the music.
“Every time I play here I feel like people are appreciative,” said Zellers. “This is a great place to play. It’s quiet, the food is great, and the service is great.” He’s been playing at Uncommon Pizza since they opened in 2007. According to owner Aaron Hostetter, they had tried other acts but everyone liked Zellers.
Hostetter’s goal is to offer something more than just a common pizzeria.
“We wanted to not be your normal pizza shop where you walk in and order at the counter and go sit down,” said Hostetter. “We wanted to be more like a restaurant.”
They offer menu standards most would expect such as salads, appetizers, wings, soup, pizza, subs, pasta, calzones and steak sandwiches. Add to that homemade ice cream for the kids, a full bar for the big kids, and occasional live music for everyone, and suddenly things start to get a little uncommon. An especially unique part of Uncommon Pizza is the garden of lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and herbs growing by their front door. They have two seasonal pizzas right now; both have thin crust and a garlic butter base. One is topped with zucchini, red onion and cheese. The other is the margherita pizza with fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil.
The patio atmosphere is similar to sitting on the deck at home with friends. During Saturday’s show, Hostetter sat on the deck with his family and took time to visit the other tables. He seemed to know his clientele.
Patrons joked with each other and interacted with Zellers and the music. Neighbors walked up from the nearby development to enjoy the music with a drink or two. The Saturday special is $6.99 wings and $2 drafts.
Customer Andrea Kratzert and her family had no idea there would be live music that night, but were pleasantly surprised. “I love him!” she said. Living in Manheim Township, they discovered Uncommon Pizza about two years ago. She often brings her daughter for lunch and they sit on the patio. Sometimes when she needs an escape, she comes by herself for a glass of wine.
“I really enjoy it,” she said. “It’s my new favorite place.”
As Zellers ended a song and credited Van Morrison, Kratzert playfully shouted, “I told you!” to her husband as they tried to guess the covers.
The crowd seemed to like the diversity of the set list. He did a slow version of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and he played others such as Tom Petty, Bryan Adams, Merle Haggard, Chuck Berry and a less known artist, Jason Isbell, to mention a few.
He loves to play anything in the alternative country genre. “That’s kind of where home base is for me,” he said.
The show started at 8 p.m., the perfect volume for the cozy patio. Soft voice, swaying to the groove, sometimes closing his eyes… He was visibly into his music. The lyrics may not have been his own words, but he sang them with inspiration.
He has had other gigs in the past such as at Lancaster Dispensing Company. His “first ever paid gig” was at Quentin Tavern near his hometown of Lebanon. He also played at the Blue Bird Tavern.
A teacher for 14 years, Zellers lives in Neffsville with his wife and three kids. Music is something he does for fun. He plays guitar and the harmonica. He first started playing in 1997, and he described himself as having “a passion for authentic music.”
His coworkers described him as having a “big heart.” He builds the sets for the school play every year and helps run the TV studio.
“He’s handsome too,” one of the ladies joked as they flattered him with compliments. Describing their fellow teachers as family, it was important to them to come out and support Zellers and his music.
The next time to catch Zellers at Uncommon Pizza will be Thanksgiving Eve, as school will be starting soon. But mark your calendars for that date, as Hostetter transforms the restaurant into a bar scene with standing room only, and Zellers jams. Hostetter explained that they don’t do live entertainment often because they there isn’t a lot of space for it. “Outside in the summer, it works,” he said.
As the night winds down, a few new people trickled onto the patio for drinks. Henderson and Milvihill joined Zellers for a rowdy rendition of “Country Roads” by John Denver. One holding the salt shaker and the other singing into the pepper, they enthusiastically provided accompaniment in Zellers’s set.
As they performed, Fisher sat alone at their table. In dry sarcasm, she mentioned that Zellers is also patient, tolerant and good humored. At the end of the song, the ladies returned to their seats, joking about how lucky they are that Uncommon Pizza allows them to sing. On a serious note, Zellers added, “Where else can I play Jason Isbell, Waylon Jennings and Van Morrison. And of course, the Jeffersons theme song?”
Lenay Ruhl is a freelance entertainment reporter for the Record Express. A 2007 graduate of Warwick, she completed her journalism degree at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. In May of 2014 she left Florida to travel for six weeks on a cross-country road trip, completing her journey in her hometown of Lititz. She welcomes your comments at Lenay.Ruhl@gmail.com.