Most pizzas are circles. Some are rectangles. But only one is shaped like a football.
Football Pizza, the iconically obscure shop on the corner of Como and 15th Ave., celebrates its ten year anniversary this month — and it’s time you try it out. Serving pies like the Meat Lovers with gyro meat and the Chef’s Special with olives, mushrooms and eggplant, Football Pizza brings some refreshing Middle Eastern spice to the classic American dish.
“My brother was experimenting and then he just curved it like a football,” Como location owner A.J. Azizi said. “That’s when Football Pizza was created.”
Owned by the two Azizi brothers, the unique Minneapolis pizza joint has been saucing up gameday go-to eats for 20 years at their other location on Central Avenue — about ten minutes from the Como location.
“I love football and I never played it, so I love having the pizza shop,” founder Meerwais Azizi said. “It came to my mind and I just did it.”
Hailing from Afghanistan and a part of a family of 10 children, the Azizi brothers contribute the restaurant's success to their family's roots and legacy. Their oldest sister (and greatest inspiration) is a doctor. Another is an engineer and yet another is a nurse — sweat with reward runs in the family.
“We’ve seen the worst of it,” A.J. Azizi said. “We’re built this way: to take the heat and do your best and come out strong. It will work out one way or another and you’ll see light at the end of the tunnel.”
A performer and singer, one of the six brothers, Sear Azizi, sings at the Como location for special events in addition to acting as the P.R. and marketing representative for the shop.
Cultivated from a family-fed, resilient upbringing, the Como bakery and its owners have a secret ingredient: passionate inclusiveness.
“We’re here for the students. As an establishment, we respect and accept all walks of life,” A.J. Azizi said. “We always try to keep every customer happy.”
As you walk into the shop, the brothers' intentions are quickly validated. Greeted by a smile as warm as the pizza itself and a “welcome," the cashier greets seemingly every customer as if they’ve been friends for the 10 years the shop has been around.
Waiting for your pizza turns into a hearty conversation that makes you forget your grumbling stomach.
Although shaped like a football, you won’t find any pigskin on these pies. The shop is completely halal — continuing their “pizza-for-all” mission.
“We want to make sure all students are getting tasty fuel for their exams,” A.J. Azizi said.
Aside from pizza, the joint also cooks up traditional Middle Eastern dishes. Kebab and basmati rice plates, chicken tikka and gyros are all a part of the menu, along with baklava and mint tea for desert.
As far as pizza goes, students can be treated to a special Monday through Wednesday that will get them a small pizza for $5.95 instead of the usual $8 price point.
"The name puts me off," strategic communications senior Sara Smokrovich said. "I've been meaning to try it, but it just seems like a sports bar with mediocre pizza."
Though this may be a common response when asked about the restaurant, it is anything but. Delicious and hearty pizza with an even heartier story fueling its ovens, Football Pizza can woo a skeptic.
The most popular options are the Meat Lover's (gyro meat, beef and chicken) and the House Special (beef, green peppers and onions), but we recommend the Mediterranean (green peppers, onions, mozzarella cheese, feta cheese and chicken) to start. All pies come with the shop's special tangy lime sauce on the side.
Cooking up a storm for Super Bowl Sunday this past year, Football Pizza saw its largest sales day in history.
“We’ve been doing what we can to progress and it was a big success,” A.J. Azizi said. “There’s a lot we can do with this brand.”
It’s this event that fuels the Football Pizza owners’ desire to take on big-hitters like Domino's and Pizza Hut in the upcoming ten years.
With their eyes set on new expansions and partnerships, it seems that — as of now — the dough will keep on rolling.
“We love it ourselves and our customers love it,” Meerwais Azizi said. “It’s a lot better than that round, boring pizza.”