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Pizza joints bank on football season
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Fans in the student section cheer on the Georgia Bulldogs in their win over the University of Louisiana at Monroe on Saturday at Sanford Stadium in Athens. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Some things just go together: A dog and a bone. The sun and the shade. Football and pizza.

Baked dough topped with cheese, marinara sauce, vegetables and meat is tasty any time of year, most any time of day, hot or cold, as a full meal or an appetizer.

But the pizza pie stakes its claim on Americana when fall closes in and football season takes off.

To understand just how popular pizza is on game day, look no further than the biggest game of all.

According to the National Restaurant Association, about 6 in 10 Americans who order food from restaurants on Super Bowl Sunday choose pizza.

Of course, chips and dip, hot wings, French fries, sandwiches and other finger foods are popular, too, but they take a resounding backseat to the appetite for pizza.

It was a little slower than normal at the Mellow Mushroom on Green Street in Gainesville early Saturday afternoon. With the Georgia Bulldogs playing at home in Athens with a noon kickoff, many fans made their way to the Classic City early.

But Mellow Mushroom owner John Bush said he was fully staffed in anticipation of an evening dash as tailgaters returned to Gainesville after the Bulldogs’ big win.

Ben Cortese, owner of Little Italy Pizzeria on Riverside Drive, said he too expected a “good dinner rush” Saturday night as Georgia fans returned home.

In fact, Cortese and his staff were busy in the morning fielding to-go orders, readying a table for local law enforcement officers gathering to watch the game and prepping for the return of fans from Athens.

Away games, on the other hand, bring more patrons in-house to eat and drink and be merry.

And with road visits to Tennessee and Auburn this year, local restaurateurs like Bush and Cortese are banking on Georgia fans wanting to watch the game with friends over pizza and beer at their establishments.

Crowds at these restaurants tend to grow in direct proportion to the game’s time slot. So a prime time airing means bigger business at Mellow Mushroom and Little Italy.

As he kneeled dough Saturday morning and topped off a few sandwiches with choice veggies, Cortese answered a buzzing phone.

The brief conversation ended with Cortese remarking on just how “busy” he was on this first Saturday in September, the first of many football game days to come in the fall of 2015.

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