Horacio Oliveira says with a mix of seriousness and humor that he’s a “grunt” at More Than Pizza. He may be the boss, but worker bee status doesn’t bother him at the restaurant that he and family members opened 26 years ago on Shaw Avenue.
“There is no great secret,” Horacio said of his routine. “You just get up and do it, day after day.”
What did Woody Allen say? Showing up is 80 percent of life.
In Horacio’s case, showing has led to a popular restaurant that serves pizzas, calzones, Eastern style submarine sandwiches, ever-popular cheese sticks and dishes that spring from the imagination of 23-year-old Manuel Oliveira. He’s Horacio’s son.
Horacio credits Manuel as the creative force at More Than Pizza. “He’s the chef,” Horacio said.
Some of Manuel’s dishes never make it on the menu. He laughs that he once experimented with a coffee and cheese pizza, but it didn’t pan out. More recently, he created a tasty item called Clare’s Lettuce Wraps. A new addition to the menu, they feature diced red onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, chicken and bacon wrapped in Romaine lettuce and topped with a fresh slice of avocado.
Who’s Clare? I’ll get to that in a bit.
First, though, let’s explore the pizza and the “more” on the restaurant’s menu.
Pizza options are plentiful. Customers can choose from the Combination Special, the Meat Lovers, the Vegetarian and the Garlic Chicken Special. Prices range from $11.25 for a small to $21 for an extra large.
In addition, the restaurant offers a cheese pizza that comes plain or dressed up with one to six toppings. Prices range from $6 to $20.75. The toppings include, but aren’t limited to pepperoni, meatballs, sausage, bacon, avocado, pineapple, peppers and artichokes.
“We don’t skimp on the toppings,” Manuel said. In addition, More Than Pizza offers free sides of ranch dressing, red sauce and jalapenos.
The pizza dough and cheese are fresh everyday. The red sauce is seasoned with herbs and leans toward a sweet taste, Manuel said. The crust is fluffy but not crispy.
The Eastern-style subs are among the “more” at More Than Pizza. Inspired by the Philadelphia cheese steak, the restaurant’s Steak Special sub begins with thinly-sliced strips of beef grilled with bell peppers, mushrooms and onions. The mixture is placed on bread with mayonnaise and baked in an oven with cheese melting on top.
The ingredients, preparation and particularly the cheese make it Eastern-style, Horacio said.
More than Pizza has a Chicken Special sub prepared the same way. The restaurant has two more Eastern-style subs – the Chicken Feta Sub and Larry’s Special. All four are $5.75 for a 7-inch and $7 for an 11-inch. (Larry’s Special is named for longtime customer, Larry Pruett, whose son, Cameron, now works part-time at the restaurant.)
The menu also includes other subs (turkey, tuna, Genoa salami and more), hot wings and salads.
Horacio’s personal story is as interesting as his menu.
He was born in the African nation of Angola to parents originally from the Azores Islands who had moved to Africa to ranch. After several years, the family moved again – this time to Hanford – to be close to family.
As a high school teenager, Horacio worked at Boston House of Pizza in Hanford, and he continued the job while attending College of the Sequoias in Visalia. He said he liked computers, but, in characteristic candor, declared he wasn’t good enough to do it for a living.
So Horacio decided to open his own pizzeria. But he didn’t want to compete with Boston House of Pizza out of respect for his boss, Roy Fialho. Horacio said he asked Fialho if a Clovis location was far enough away and that Fialho said it was.
With financial help from his in-laws, Horacio and his then-wife, Pam, opened More Than Pizza in the Clovis Country Shopping Center at Shaw and Armstrong avenues. In the early years, Horacio’s mother and five sisters also worked in the restaurant to help out.
“I couldn’t have done it without all of them,” he said.
More Than Pizza offers an intimate setting. “I like small,” Horacio said. “It call it a hole-in-the-wall. It’s different — not typical.”
The same is true for how the restaurant is decorated. A mannequin named Mandy stands near the cash register.
“People either find it interesting or creepy,” Horacio said.
Photos of Clovis sports teams and pictures of Horacio’s favorite stars (Lucille Ball and Clint Eastwood) fill one wall. Horacio also has mounted the rotary wall phone that belonged to his late grandfather, Joe Brasil of Hanford. A Pillsbury Doughboy stands on top of the phone.
In addition, a free juke box plays ’80s hits, country western tunes and Cambodian music. Horacio’s wife, Malee Mam, is Cambodian. A claw machine has been purposely adjusted so customers have an easy time grabbing a prize.
“I like watching people having fun,” Horacio said, explaining why he made the claw machine so easy.
That attitude has won Horacio many loyal customers. Clare Smith, the office manager at Jefferson Elementary School in Clovis, is one. She said she once suggested that Horacio make a garlic pizza, and he did, giving it to her for free.
Another time, her husband, Rich said that Clare was cutting back on carbs.
That led to More Than Pizza developing the lettuce wraps, which are named for her.
Said Smith: “They go that extra mile to please you.”
More Than Pizza is at 2195 Shaw Ave., and the phone number is (559) 298-4865. The restaurant is on Facebook. More Than Pizza delivers during limited times and in limited areas. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9:15 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; and 11 a.m. to 10:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Monday and Tuesday.