There’s nothing more familiar to college students than a great slice of pizza — or two — after a long night out. But for students at Syracuse University, Elli Darmoyslis might be just as popular as the comfort food she serves.
Darmoyslis is the pizza maker at Varsity, a local eatery just steps from campus and, just like pepperoni or cheese, she’s a staple in the students’ college experience.
“I love the people,” Darmoyslis, who’s been working at the restaurant for 46 years, told TODAY Food. “They make me high. I’m 70 and I’m still working. When I started, I was their age.”
In fact, she thinks of some of the regulars as her very own kids. “I teach some of the students to call me ‘yia yia,’” she said. “In Greek, that means grandma.”
On a typical day, Darmoyslis whips up a couple of hundred pizzas. On game days, that number increases to about 300 to 400. She says that when it comes to toppings, the locals really love pepperoni — it’s always the best seller on game days. She, however, prefers the Greek pie which features feta, spinach and tomatoes.
But all Varsity pizza leaves such an impression on the students that some have even had it sent to their new homes out of state. “We’ve had orders from California, Florida, Washington D.C….,” she said, adding that a politician — a former student at Syracuse — once placed a big order for a meeting in the nation’s capital.
Former customers also make their way back to Syracuse for a slice. “I see people coming back from 45 years ago, and when they see me, you’ve got to see their faces that I’m still here,” she said.
“Varsity was always the go-to stalwart pizzeria on campus,” Scott Wiener, a 2004 graduate of Syracuse and owner of Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City, told TODAY Food. He added that Darmoyslis’ pizza was “no-frills and totally homestyle — a universe away from today’s fancy pies. It was the perfect comfort food.”
So what's the secret ingredient to this longtime pizza maker's pies?
One could say that what makes Darmoyslis’ pizzas so addicting is the fact that they’re made with love. “I love what I’m doing,” she said. “And when you love, you receive love.”