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Pizza biz: there’s no topping it

Westside’s new owners Andrew and Tiffnie Qualls refine the eatery’s formula.

Andrew Qualls thought he would toss pizzas to pay his way through college.

Instead, pizza became his career.

After 14 years in the business, beginning in high school, Qualls is finally the owner of a pizzeria, Westside Pizza in Winslow Mall.

He has always relied on pizza to provide him with steady dough.

“To me it just seemed easy,” Qualls said. “I made plenty of money to support my family, and when I had the chance to own my own pizza place it was a no-brainer.”

Qualls got his shot at ownership thanks to his high school friend Jason West. The pair became close running a DJ business in Colville when they were 16; and later they went to work at a Pizza Rita restaurant.

Soon West opened the first Westside Pizza restaurant and Qualls served as his manager.

Qualls went on to work in Spokane, but West’s restaurant in Colville was such a success that he began opening new branches, finding a niche in small towns that hadn’t been inundated with fast food pizza chains.

The Westside Pizza in Winslow, opened six years ago, was his third restaurant.

West was getting enough requests for franchising rights that he decided to focus on opening new locations and asked Qualls to take over the shop on Bainbridge earlier this year.

There are already 12 locations across the state including restaurants in Poulsbo, Kingston and Bremerton.

Qualls moved from Spokane to Bainbridge with his wife, Tiffnie and their young children, Tyler and Dalis. The bustle of the commuter community and the mild weather were big changes from Eastern Washington, but they’re settling in well.

“We love the parks on Bainbridge,” Tiffnie said.

The customer base is different as well. Qualls said the relative affluence of islanders makes for more constant delivery orders whereas in Spokane and Colville, business often peaked around paydays.

What’s not different, Qualls said, is the intimate feel of Winslow.

“The way the town is set up is pretty much the same,” he said, “with the nice, small downtown.”

With a turnkey business already in place, Qualls said he has focused on improving the quality of the pizza to build a loyal base of customers.

“They like our product, and at least we think we have a better product than is generally offered,” he said.

He began with ingredients, switching to a distributor that visits the island more regularly so the meats and veggies would be fresher.

He obsessed over the base for the restaurant’s homemade sauce, even taking a trip to California with West to tour a tomato processing plant. The vine-ripened tomatoes are harvested just three months out of the year, and Qualls said he was impressed by the urgency of the operation.

“They have guys out in the fields picking tomatoes 24 hours a day to get them in while they’re ripe,” he said.

Qualls said Westside has all the classic pizza pies, as well as a few specialties like garlic chicken, gourmet veggie with pesto and “Tropical Heat” that combines jalepeno peppers with pineapple.

He would still like to cut down on Westside’s delivery times, which average about 30 minutes.

“The only real difficulty we have is that the island is so awkwardly laid out,” he said. “It makes it so that the delivery isn’t as fast as I would like.”

The Qualls are entering their first winter slow season, but they have been around the business long enough to know what to expect. Business usually tapers off through the holidays, then picks right back up after New Year’s.

They’re not sure why it happens; perhaps customers are tired of cooking big meals, or maybe they are trying to trim up.

“We have one theory,” Tiffnie said. “That everyone’s resolutions pile up and they are just trying to eat healthier.”

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