David Alexander knew opening a gaming pizzeria would be a risky roll of the 20-sided die, but he wanted to fulfill a lifelong dream.
On March 1, 2020, Alexander and his girlfriend, Ashley Lanaghan, signed a lease for the Lawrenceville space that would become Black Lotus Pizza. The most valuable card in the game Magic: The Gathering, a Black Lotus gives players extra mana or supernatural power.
If they only knew then how much they would need it.
Covid not only pushed back their grand opening from April to June, but it also forced them to shut down when it sickened the entire family. David’s father, Jerry Alexander, died of Covid in late December.
Reminders of the patriarch can be seen throughout the restaurant, from the refinished floor and handmade benches to the signage and sauce.
“Growing up, my father was the cook of the family,” says Alexander, a former IT director who lives in Moon Township. “It’s really all I wanted to do.”
Alexander and his friend Joe Lerini, who also battled Covid, put in 80 to 90 hours a week at the shop, which is located at 4065 Penn Avenue, just a few blocks from UPMC Children’s Hospital.
Although given clean bills of health, they’re still feeling the aftereffects of the virus, including fatigue.
But they’re pressing on to feed the community that has supported them through hard times — hospital workers get a 10 percent discount – and to create a welcoming space where folks can get a side of adventure with their slice.
Pizza is a pursuit of passion passed on to Alexander by his Italian grandmothers.
Haunted by the frozen pies he used to eat during marathon Dungeons & Dragons sessions in his teens, he’s spent the past decade perfecting his own recipes. The dough and sauce are made fresh daily. Customers can choose from hand-tossed or thin-crust pizza with a traditional, smoky or zesty sauce.
Canned and bottled beer and cocktails are available at the fully stocked bar.
Other locally sourced menu items include Gosia’s Pierogies, salads, wings, fries and sandwiches. The Black Lotus Burger, made with beef from Jubilee Hilltop Ranch, includes black garlic aioli. Alexander is working on a new specialty menu to provide an outlet for his culinary creativity.
Patrons can order from DoorDash, get food-to-go or sit in the dining area (Covid seating capacity is capped at 25 people). There are dozens of free games to play on-site, including Monopoly and Cards Against Humanity. Black Lotus also sells games and the owners hope to host tournaments when Covid is defeated.
“It’s hard to play a game like Dungeons & Dragons online. People are really hungry to get back out, but they’re rightfully staying home,” says Alexander, who lives with a chronic pain disorder. “It’s a scary time right now. As someone who has had Covid, I viscerally understand it. I don’t want anyone to get sick.”