Story and photos by Gary Budzak
In every town across America, there seems to be at least one pizza place that people come back to again and again that isn’t part of a chain restaurant and has a couple of unusual menu items.
Unusual, like a potato pizza. Consisting of mashed potatoes, cheeses and bacon, the slices resembled the top of baked potatoes and tasted like the inside of a twice-baked potato, only with a firm crust.
A glance at the menu reveals more interesting twists: a taco pizza with chorizo and jalapenos; a four-cheese pizza with fontinella; and a Chicago-style pie with broccoli and spinach.
The folks who run Long Branch, Pat and Maria Bennett, say they grew up on this pizza in Sunbury, and their son, P.J., lived on it while battling cancer (he’s now 21). Both also worked at pizza shops when they were younger. Pat Bennett retired as Sunbury Police Chief last year after serving on the force for 30 years.
Sunbury Mayor Tommy Hatfield praised Bennett as a real-life Andy Griffith, ably serving his hometown.
“Pat has a heart for the people of this community,” Hatfield said at his retirement ceremony.
“The only thing I miss is helping people,” Pat Bennett said of his previous job.
Pat Bennett said he is still serving Sunbury — but now it’s pizzas, subs, breaded ravioli, salads, wings and bosco (a cheesy bread stick). He’ll make the dough on weekday mornings before folks start placing lunch orders. On a busy day, he may make enough dough for 90 pizzas — the restaurant serves four sizes, ranging from 10 to 16 inches.
He loves to cook, and as a result, the restaurant makes its own lasagna and meatballs. He even tinkers with new pizza recipes. However, his favorite is the Old World pizza, with spicy pepperoni, provolone, mozzarella and Romano cheeses.
Maria Bennett may work the later shift, but she’ll come in early on a busy day. She’ll take orders, put the toppings on (there’s 21 to choose from), and serve those dining in. The restaurant can seat up to 51 people.
“I love the people,” Maria Bennett said of what she likes best about the business. She said she also likes working with her husband, and they get along well together. The shop employs 10 people, and Long Branch delivers in a 10-mile radius. Thanks to the Tanger Outlet and new subdivisions in the village, Pat Bennett said Long Branch is getting some new customers who weren’t previously aware of Sunbury square.
They also get repeat business from people who come from out of town and prefer Mom-and-Pop restaurants to chains.
Long Branch Pizza
34 S. Vernon St., located across from the village square, Sunbury