by Molly Johnson and Chloe Yu, Features Reporters
photo courtesy of Sweet Tomatoes Instagram
If you walk into the Newton Centre location of Sweet Tomatoes, a beloved local family restaurant, you’ll find a framed note hanging from the wall. It has been there for years, placed among photos and newspaper clippings by owner and South parent Hedy Jarras after a customer walked into the restaurant with the note one day. Jarras said that the index card serves as a reminder of the restaurant’s significance in the community.
“I didn’t know who this woman was, but she wrote me this note that said something along the lines of: ‘the pizza’s always so good, but today, my slice was exceptional,’” she said. “[The customer] just made [the experience] so much more special not because she wasn’t a regular, but because she knew me and I didn’t necessarily know her and she just loved the pizza so much.”
Jarras has managed the family business with a food truck and locations in Newton Centre, West Newton and Needham for 23 years. She first fell in love with Sweet Tomatoes one summer, when she worked at the original Cape Cod location. When the previous owner decided to leave, Jarras saw the opportunity to bring Sweet Tomatoes to Newton Centre.
“Something just clicked,” she said. “I just fell in love with it.”
Jarras opened the Newton Centre location in 1998, expanding to West Newton in 2003 and later opening a third location in Needham in 2007 as well as a pizza truck with her husband, Brian Canty. Now, the couple manages the three locations together.
“It’s just always nice to have each other to bounce ideas off of,” she said. “Having a support system like my husband, I felt like I became stronger.”
Jarras’s daughter, freshman Emma Canty, said that another benefit of a family business is being able to pick up food anytime.
“You can get food whenever you want,” she said. “If you don’t want something at home, it’s so easy to just say, ‘Oh, let’s get Sweet Tomatoes.’”
Junior Usha Berger said that the friendly environment and delicious pizza always has her coming back.
“Whenever I’m craving pizza, I can always go and get Sweet Tomatoes, especially because I live half a block away,” she said. “Everyone there is so nice, and it’s a great place to go with my friends. Their pizza always puts me in a better mood.”
While COVID-19 has been a challenge for many businesses, Sweet Tomatoes was fortunately able to keep their doors open. Masks are mandated for customers and staff, and testing for COVID, along with thorough sanitization, remains a priority.
Canty said that curbside deliveries on Friday nights have been some of her happiest memories amidst the scary reality of COVID.
“My closest friend, my mom and I would go and we would deliver,” she said. “On the way, we would get dinner, and we made a playlist. It was just really fun.”
Canty said that another exciting part of her family owning Sweet Tomatoes is the occasional famous clientele.
“It’s always cool when Bruins players order,” Canty said. “We get a lot of orders from the goalie, Tuukka Rask.”
For employees, working at a family business is a unique experience, Abby Betzalel, a cashier at the Newton Centre location, said.
“I’ve also worked at TJ Maxx, which is obviously very different,” she said. “I like it here better just because you get to know everyone closely and so you always know who you’re working with. At TJ Maxx, it was just very impersonal, like there’d be a new manager [who] you would never know.”
Adam Obeid, who has primarily worked at the Newton Centre location for three years, said that Jarras is very welcoming and friendly with the staff.
“My manager really likes to get to know her coworkers and her employees so she’s always saying, ‘even if you’re not [working], stop by, say hello,’” he said.
For Jarras and her family, the Sweet Tomatoes staff have become an extended family.
“Some of my staff have been with me for 20 years,” Jarras said, “I’m happy that I could employ them all this time and [I love] the family connection and the dynamic that we have created.”
Working at Sweet Tomatoes is one of the things that brings Jarras the most joy in her life. She said that the business has become somewhat of a second child to her.
“This business kind of defines who I am and I love it,” she said. “There’s something about saying that every morning [I] wake up [and] I’m happy to go to work.”
In the words of Canty, “who doesn’t love pizza?”