Customers can't help but notice the sign in the front window of Pedone's Pizza and Deli in Redondo Beach's Riviera Village.
“We are excited to announce our new concept, ‘Pay It Forward Fall!’”
The restaurant announced a letter-writing contest asking customers to write one page about explaining why their favorite local charity was a worthy cause. Pedones would donate $40,000 to the winning charities in increments of $500 and up, with one lucky recipient receiving $5,000.
Michael Russell, Pedone's owner and a Palos Verdes Estates resident, said he started the contest as a way to give back to the community that has supported his business for the last 22 years.
“We were one of the first small restaurants in the area—the only pizza in town," said Russell. "Since then a lot more restaurants have popped up, but right from the beginning we were able to grow and sustain.”
Russell and Lou Pedone opened the 800 square-foot pizzeria in May 1997 patterning it after Pedone’s popular pizza shop in Hermosa Beach.
After three months the partnership dissolved and Russell took over the restaurant keeping it as close to the original Hermosa Beach spot.
“We have the original menu, all of the original recipes; we use the same quality ingredients and we’ve continued to use the same vendors," said Russell. "We make sure our products are up to the Pedone family standards.”
At that time, Russell, his wife, Lyn, and their two daughters lived just around the corner from the restaurant on Susana Avenue. Hollywood Riviera is the archetypical Southern California beach town—a perfect place to raise children.
“Our girls were twelve and thirteen and we thought it was a good way to watch them while they were at the beach,” Lyn Russell said. “They could walk back to the restaurant and be part of things. The community is like a family—it’s where you come, where you eat and shop. People know each other. There’s nothing else like it—it’s so homey.”
Pedone’s itself is a one-of-a-kind restaurant.
The Russells never advertised; word of mouth alone made the pizzeria a go-to place. They’ve had the same employees for years. Regular customers recognize each other and enjoy interacting with new customers visiting the shop for the first time.
Lyn Russell grew up in New Jersey, so she was used to the concept of the “slice” that Lou Pedone had made popular.
“Twenty years ago,” she explained, “if you walked into a Shakey’s out here, you couldn’t order just one slice of pizza—you had to order the whole thing. It was great seeing the slice become popular out here.”
A year ago Hunt-Russell, Lyn’s professional name, retired from teaching at Hickory Elementry School in Torrance where she’d taught for 32 years and she has more time to spend at the restaurant. “I love people saying how much they love the shop, the food and our employees.”
Another thing the Russells love is the area. “I couldn’t live anywhere else,” he said. “There’s nothing here we don’t like. We’re in the Palos Verdes bubble; we know our neighbors, we can walk to our daughter’s house.”
Lyn Russell enjoys traveling. “I love to explore,” she said. “but when I return home to this area I’m always impressed. In fact, Palos Verdes is just as beautiful as the Amalfi Coast.”
The Russells believe in giving back.
Everyone in the Hollywood Riviera community loved the 4th of July Fireworks that Palos Verdes resident Jackie Briles had funded for 15 years. When Briles died in 2017, Russell and another Palos Verdes resident, Rick Bender, tried to continue the tradition. Russell committed $50,000 for the 2018 fireworks show. But, there was so much red tape and restrictions the show never got off the ground.
Russell looked for another way to contribute to the community that had supported his business for more than two decades.
He had been having ‘Pay it Forward Tuesdays’ in the fall for 15 years. During those years, he’d already donated nearly $100,000 to local South Bay organizations, schools and libraries. Russell said he donated all of his profits on 10 to 12 designated Tuesdays to a cause that touched his heart.
“The first one we ever did was for Chase, a boy living with cancer,” Russell remembered. “I contacted his parents and explained what we wanted to do and they agreed to participate. They really got the word out to the community and it was a tremendous success. From that time on, we put a sign in the window asking for others with causes to let us know. We’ve given a lot to schools and libraries and of course we donate certificates and items to local fundraisers.”
This year the Russells decided to donate the money they had set aside for the fireworks to ‘Pay it Forward Fall!’.
“This is the only year we’re doing something this big,” Russsell said, “but ‘Pay it Forward Tuesdays’ will continue.”
The Russells said they are fortunate. They’ve created a successful business, educated their daughters and helped them buy houses.
“We’re very simple people,” Michael Russell said. “We never even had a new car until I was thirty-seven, that’s the kind of people we are. I don’t need that much money.”
Lyn Russell agreed and said it's not about donating money, but also about giving time, energy and love.
"I think that’s what’s missing in our world—people don’t give enough," said Lyn. "It really takes a Village—like Hollywood Riviera. I’m just one person, many people do ten times as much as I do, but I’m so grateful that I have this money that I can utilize and give out.”
Michael Russell looked at his wife and smiled.
“This woman is incredible,” he said proudly. “Thank God, she goes above and beyond.”