Hamp Pizza Joe brings novel creations to the UMass community

The pizza chef has over 3,000 followers on Instagram
Photo courtesy of Joe Denoronha.
Photo courtesy of Joe Denoronha.

On the afternoon of Friday, April 19, Joe Denoronha, who is perhaps better known by his Instagram handle “@hamp_pizzajoe,” held a meet and greet with University of Massachusetts Chancellor Javier Reyes and his wife Maritza at Hampshire Dining Commons, serving Reyes his own custom pizza.

“The main point of all this, is to welcome you and your wife to UMass,” Denoronha said, regarding the chancellor’s inauguration on April 30.

A pizza chef at Hampshire, Denoronha has amassed nearly 3,000 followers on Instagram through his unique content revolving around his work and pizza, making him a recognizable face on campus.

“It’s amazing to see with [Denoronha], when he’s not behind the counter, how students still go and say hello, and they want to take a picture with him,” Reyes said.

Denoronha created a pizza in Reyes’ name called the “Chancellor’s Ancho Chile Chicken Pizza,” made with avocados, shredded mozzarella, jack cheese, chicken, red onions, soft corn tortillas and ancho mole. The spread also featured pesto margherita pizza, a Nutella pizza with marshmallows and a pizza with the face of Hello Kitty.

“This interaction came together when I came to visit the dining facilities, and when I was introduced to Pizza Joe, he told me he would make a pizza for me,” Reyes said. “We kept in touch, and he told me throughout the semester that he was working on different tastings of the pizza, and it was unveiled [Friday] for me.”

Photo courtesy of George Coulouras.

“When I first met [Reyes], I was amazed, because realizing that we have a big business going on here, he took a moment to go to each one of us here and introduce himself,” Denoronha said. “That’s very important.”

A Brazilian native, Denoronha moved to the United States when he was 23 years old. After working as a franchise owner of a Dunkin Donuts for 14 years, he decided it was time for a change.

“I decided to do something else, something fresh, so I started working at UMass about 12 years ago,” he said. “Since then things have changed a little bit, but I love working here.”

Denoronha has always had a passion for the customer service industry. “Customer service is in my DNA, I believe. I think each one of us is a salesperson in life, and you need to be very thoughtful when you’re face to face with a customer.”

After a co-worker convinced him to post on Instagram and it was approved by his supervisor, the “Hamp Pizza Joe” account was born. Denoronha uses CapCut to edit the videos himself, and he takes custom pizza requests from students through Instagram.

“The Instagram account works in that way, to show the students what I do and when I do it,” he said. “If they want something different, they can send me a text, and I’ll make it for them.”

This month, freshman finance major Jana Choukri and freshman environmental science major Sonia Murphy used Instagram to request a pizza monkey bread recipe from Denoronha, who described it as “the craziest pizza I’ve ever made.”

The two went to Hampshire to try the pizza, and their interaction was posted on Joe’s account.

“Pizza Joe was a very friendly guy,” Murphy said. “He even told us he had to research how to make it and brought his own pans from home. He clearly loves his job, and made sure to let us know we could come back anytime.”

“Overall, it was a very pleasant interaction,” Choukri said. “He was beyond friendly and knowledgeable, and the pizza was absolutely exquisite.”

Joe Denoronha’s signature slogan, accompanied by a design featured on t-shirts, cups and canvases.

Denoronha has even adopted his own slogan, “I Do It For The Pizza.”

“That was an idea that came to my mind, to reward the students to just try the pizza, and make it a happiness food,” Denoronha said. “If you look at big companies like McDonalds, Starbucks, even Dunkin Donuts, they have their own slogan. So, I figured why don’t I just use ‘I Do It For The Pizza.’”

A theme on the “Hamp Pizza Joe” account features Denoronha gifting students with a picture frame of a cartoon pizza lifting a barbell weight, featuring his slogan. “I reward them with a t-shirt, or a cup, now I have a canvas,” Denoronha said. “And they love it, because it’s appreciation.”

Sophomore public heath major Lexie Hyora almost received one of his paintings, but Denoronha had to improvise following a minor accident.

“We come to visit [Denoronha] every day at Hamp,” Hyora said. “He gave my friends a poster that says, ‘I Do It For The Pizza,’ and he made one for me too, but he broke it on his way here, so instead he gave me a mug. He’s just super caring and awesome.”

Pizza isn’t all that Denoronha posts on his account, as he frequently uploads videos with motivational quotes and inspirational messages. “I like to be different,” he said. “I don’t like the videos to just focus on the pizza.”

Pizza is not his only passion; he also enjoys painting and making pop art. In fact, it was his love for art that helped connect him with Reyes.

“We’ve been in touch not only because of the pizza, but because he’s also a great artist,” Reyes said. “We have a program at the University called Building Bridges, where the staff and the faculty can present their art, so he did a painting of me that was showcased. That painting is now in my office, it’s a beautiful painting.”

Denoronha sees a connection between his love for pizza and his love for art. Photo courtesy of Chancellor Reyes’ Instagram.

“Pizza to me is not only the food, it’s art,” Denoronha said. “When I started doing pop art it was to relieve stress, and I believe pizza could also be something that takes the customer away from other things, so they can sit with friends, have a pizza and chat.”

Numerous students stopped by the meet-and-greet table to say hello, including Gagan Biradar, an international student from India earning a master’s degree in computer science.

“He stopped by there all the time and talked to me, and I said, ‘Did you call your mother today?’” Denoronha explained. “He said ‘no’ every time I asked him, so I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, if you don’t call your mother, don’t stop by here and talk to me!’”

“So a week later, he comes by and he goes ‘My mother says she’s coming, and she wants to meet you,’” Denoronha added. “When I asked why, he said ‘Because of you, I’ve never called her so much!’ He’s a special, amazing, dedicated student, and now he’s calling his mother almost every day. That’s what this is about, a relationship with the students.”

Denoronha also gave Biradar a present for his birthday. “He makes me feel very welcome here, which is very nice,” Biradar said.

“That’s the beauty of having people like [Denoronha] that really are welcoming,” Reyes said. “They have created a relationship with the students where it’s not about the ingredients of the food, it’s what they put of themselves in the food.”

At the end of the day, Denoronha’s job is about the students.

“I love to talk to the students, I love to interact, and I love the customer service business,” Denoronha said. “To me, pizza is not just a food, it’s happiness.”

George Coulouras can be reached at [email protected].

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