In a synchronistic timing of events, a St. John staple pizza joint will take leave from it’s home of 18 years. A physical space that gained notoriety as a communications hub in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. But, never fear! The new location is only a few moments away from their previous digs between Dolphin Market and The Lumberyard. The pizza (and more!) will be just as delicious as it ever was before. It’s more convenient for those of you who stay at the Westin or along the South Shore of St. John. AND…There’s a ton of parking!
But, Ronnie’s Pizza isn’t his only claim to fame. This stand up member of the Love City community has come to the rescue in times of a communication crisis not once, but twice! And, with this change of location timing up with the five year anniversary of Hurricane Irma (September 6, 2017), I thought that maybe talking about a bit more than the move of this favorite pizza establishment might be timing appropriate 🙂
Ronnie’s Pizza and the adjacent stacked stairwell and balcony became infamously known as being the ONLY place on St. John with immediate connectivity after Irma took her toll on our home in September of 2017. This obscure corner of Cruz Bay was made famous when photographs went viral of dozens of people standing on the highest points, cell phones to the sky, in order to get a signal. The stairs outside of this renowned establishment, offering pizza, subs, wings and more (an mo? :)), became a hub of activity in the fall of 2017, while residents of St. John struggled to get word out to their loved ones that they were ok.
In light of this upcoming move and the fast approaching five year anniversary of Hurricane Irma, I reached out to the owner of Ronnie’s Pizza and Mo’, Ronnie Klingsberg, last week to chat about the aftermath of the storm and the future of the new location for this time-honored establishment.
“It was a darky and stormy day…,” he started.
We both paused and laughed. In reality, it was a bit of a bittersweet chuckle.
He told me that the group of hard working and in-genius guys, who would later form the Love City Community Network (LCCN) non-profit organization, had established that they could amplify the faint wi-fi signal by placing an antenna on top of the building. With no cell phone towers working and this wavering glimmer of wi-fi the only way to get a message in or out, Ronnie immediately agreed that they should do so. This would be the first LCCN tower on island…A stepping stone to this essential non-profit establishing an island wide reliable internet connection that still persists in times of power outages and other services being down. I know this because I personally use LCCN every day so that I can remain connected while working from home 🙂 (Thanks Guys!!!).
Back to 2017>>> Ronnie spent the next several hours and days working tirelessly to make sure that the generator at his shop kept running in order to keep the wi-fi going. He gave away the food from his pantries, as most restaurants on island were doing at the time. He provided a meeting space for the IT pros of LCCN to pow-wow and decide next steps to expand coverage. And he kept up with the arduous task of lining up a not-so-tech-savvy group of islanders with a stateside address in their phone so that they could use the wi-fi calling to reach their loved ones.
“There are probably still people on St. John who have my old Vermont zip code in their phone,” he laughed in remembrance of racing from phone to phone to update the 911 address so it would allow for phone calls and texts on the wi-fi established at his shop. But, as mentioned, this wasn’t the first time Ronnie had jumped to solve the communication problems of St. John in the aftermath of a disaster.
Rewind to Hurricane Marilyn in 1995…Ronnie ran the Rolling Pin Bakery, located in the space that used to house Baked in the Sun and which is now Provisions. In addition to serving baked goods and lunches, Ronnie began his career of pizza making in this renowned bakery space. So, technically, he has been serving up pizza to the St. John community for 22 years!
He recalls his wife telling him “don’t waste your money on a cell phone” at some point in time during the year before Marylin hit the USVI. So, what did he do? He went out and got himself a brand new, but now “old-school,” Nokia cell phone. 🙂
And, in the aftermath of Marilyn, Ronnie’s place, the Rolling Pin Bakery, began his legendary role as the hub of communication for St. John. His cell phone was the only one on island that could get a signal out! He recalls getting an $800 cell phone bill in the weeks that followed from allowing all of his friends and community members to use the phone to, once more, get the word out to their families that they were ok.
So, as Ronnie makes this move into his third location in 22 years of pizza making on St. John, he speaks excitedly about the new horizons. The new spot will be located at Palm Plaza, across from the Race Track Gas Station and just up the hill from the Westin and St. John Market. This space will allow him to expand his delivery zone to farther out in Fish Bay, give him easier access to the Westin, Gifft Hill, Chocolate Hole and Great Cruz Bay and give him plenty of parking for those of you who want to stop for dinner to go on your way back to these locations from a beach or a boat day!
The interior space will be a bit smaller with seating for only twelve people inside but he is hopeful that outdoor patio seating might be a future endeavor. Ronnie’s previous establishment in Cruz Bay is currently closed but he is hopeful that the new storefront will be ready to serve his loyal guests and patrons by the beginning of October.
Ronnie’s Pizza menu will remain the same initially but you might see some changes over the course of this season. And, in the meantime, let’s hope that his new location won’t have to live up to its communications hub reputation this fall 🙂