ELLSWORTH, Maine – There are about a half-dozen pizza places in the city, but when Paula Tanner comes from Jonesport to shop every two weeks, she only eats the cheese pizza from one — Finelli Pizza & Subs.
It was love at first slice — err, sight — for Tanner.
“It was like, ‘Oh my God, this looks like our kind of pizza place.’ It’s one of those dated, clearly family-owned-type places,” Tanner said. “And we just love this pizza. Why? Because we like New York-style pizza. We’re from Chicago, but Chicago people like that.”
But the 19-year-old Ellsworth pizza place has a challenger. Last summer, former Finelli general manager Harry Luhrs opened DragonFire, and the incumbent has taken notice.
Finelli’s front sign throws a little shade upon Luhrs’ enterprise: “Often Imitated. Never Duplicated,” the marquee reads.
The contretemps is a minor ripple, but it stands out in the generally placid Ellsworth business community, where restaurateurs typically get along and even help each other out.
Luhrs said he and Finelli owner Paul Schneider have not spoken since Luhrs left to start his own joint.
Efforts to contact Schneider were unsuccessful. But Finelli’s current general manager, Derrick Baker, said what might look like a wall of animosity between Finelli and DragonFire is actually something far simpler: They’re competitors.
And Coke just doesn’t talk to Pepsi.
Customers at both restaurants on Monday said they didn’t know about the rivalry. They were too busy eating. Finelli’s take on New York-style pizza features a thin, crisp crust, while DragonFire’s wood-fired pie is thicker and softer.
Josh Kelsey of Hermon said he favors Finelli by far, while Carol Yancey, a Dallas woman visiting Lamoine, likes DragonFire. For Kelsey, the crust makes all the difference.
“When you pick it up, it does not fold over,” the 36-year-old Kelsey said. “It isn’t droopy.”
Yancey likes DragonFire’s pie, with its heavier crust. And she really likes the salads. “They’re really big,” she said.
Tanner said she finds something nostalgic in pizza.
“Every childhood memory is about grabbing a slice of pizza, sitting around and just laughing,” she said.