When Pan’s patrons heard about it, many wanted to pay-it-forward. Pan’s has donated the surplus, in both money and pizza donations, to area homeless shelters and nonprofits over the course of the pandemic.
Nearing two years in, they haven’t lost money, nor has anyone abused the system. Actually, especially at the start, “so many people wanted to pay it forward, we basically had this envelope” of donations to give away, said Justine Zolotas, whose family runs Pan’s.
In almost two years, they’ve donated some $2,000, the family estimates, to local nonprofits, and some 150 pizzas to homeless shelters.
“What dawned on us was people wanted to help and they didn’t know how. They saw us as an outlet for generosity,” Zolotas said in a recent phone interview.
Her late father, Pan, and her mother, Anne Zolotas, ran pizza joints around Vermont for years. Anne, now 75, opened Pan’s in 1998. Justine’s brother Alexander, 39, and Justine’s partner, Sani Pasagic, own Pan’s now.
Pan’s created its need-based “boat model” of payments at the start of the pandemic. Customers who choose the “green boat” pay full price. Those who choose the blue boat identify as being “impacted by financial hardship due to COVID-19,” and pay 75 percent of their order. Yellow Boaters self-identify as being able to pay 50 percent. Those in the orange boat pay 25 percent. White boaters have been “seriously impacted” and cannot pay. (Orange and white boaters are limited to one large pizza for a family or a medium pizza for a solo customer.)
According to Pan’s Instagram post, the deal is “No questions asked, no justification needed, this model operates on the honor system.”
South Hero is a small town in the Champlain Islands in Lake Champlain. The location sparked the boat metaphor, said Zolotas.
“I didn’t want people to feel they were asking for a handout, or it was some kind of charity,” she said.
“We’re on an island — and not to be too sappy — we’re all collectively enduring the same storm, but our boats are different. So what boat are you in? Are you in a boat that allows you to pay full price? Or are you in a boat that’s getting battered about the waves?”
At the one-year mark, Pan’s owners posted on Instagram: “When you act from the heart and follow your gut, things usually work out! This model has been a huge success, we’ve been able to help out so many community members, and in return the Island community (and beyond!) has supported us with their patronage.” They urged those wondering how to pay it forward to donate to the Vermont Foodbank, Champlain Islanders Developing Essential Resources Inc., or any other trusted nonprofit helping Vermonters in need.
“We’re a really small town. It’s a nice thing all around for everyone,” Zolotas said.
Pasagic also owns Beach House Restaurant in Burlington, Vt. Justine Zolotas is also a personal trainer and yoga teacher. Alexander is a full-time student at Northern Vermont University. Anne, at 75, is a volunteer on the South Hero Rescue Squad, and for the fire department, among other roles in town.
“It’s a family business, we love doing it — but it’s not life-or-death for us,” Zolotas said of the pizza payment system. “There are people who are struggling, and we want it to be available. We’re not running this pizza place to get rich.”