April 20, 2014

Elyria
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Owner happy to live for the day to offer free pizza

AVON LAKE — A pizzeria that gives away free pizza probably won’t be around for long.
But on Friday, the owner of Pizza Plus on Avon-Belden Road did just that because he’s glad he can still say he’s alive.
Frank Baird, 57, of Avon Lake, hosted the pizza party – complete with clown and DJ – for his customers not to celebrate the business’s one year anniversary — it’s still months away — but to celebrate the one-year anniversary of his major heart attack.

“The miracle has started to evolve,” Baird said Friday between preparing lunch orders in his small pizzeria. “Months ago, I was panicked when I was told to start over at my age. But I knew I could do one thing — provide good pizza. It took a lot of faith, but here we are. Before we had faith, but didn’t have to use it to get through the day.”

CARL SULLENBERGER
Frank Baird makes a pizza.

Before his heart attack, Baird admits he was a hard-working career man. His pizza distribution company served 14 customers in Northeast Ohio, and he was on the road most days traveling from one corner of the state to the next.

“He was wholesaling and running all over the countryside, and I was worried about him then,” said Candice Baird, his wife. “On the weekends, he made pizzas for the (Avon Lake) Shoreman football team. So, it was nonstop. There was nothing that could slow him down.”

Rushing around was exactly what he was doing one year ago Friday when he suffered a near-fatal heart attack. On that fall day, he got up early and rushed to Warren to see a customer. Midway through the return trip, his chest tightened and an excruciating pain signaled his worst fear. Baird said he knew he was having a heart attack.

Determined not to leave his family, Baird drove himself to the nearest fire department — the Russell Fire Department near Bainbridge — about 3 miles away. What followed for the Baird family included hours of uncertainty, surgery and six months of recovery.

“I was floored,” Baird said. “I thought I was in good health. I mean, I didn’t smoke and rarely drink. But I guess the stress of working almost nonstop and not eating right was too much for my heart to handle.”

To compound the family’s concerns, Baird said his doctor upon releasing him from Hillcrest Hospital, gave him a piece of life-changing medical advice: If he wanted to live to see his grandchildren grow up, he had better settle down in one location.

At first, the idea seemed absurd.

But Baird said it actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was just the boost he needed to give up the open road in exchange for one stationary operation where customers can get pizza.

“When you’ve been though the big thing, it’s the little stuff that makes your day,” Baird said. “Now, I have this place and my family. I couldn’t ask for anything else.”

“We feel like we’re developing friends. When you have regular customers coming back, it’s like you are growing a family,” Candice Baird added.

The business is doing well. And, it recently got a nod of praise from the community. During a pizza cook-off hosted by the Avon/Avon Lake Rotary last month, Pizza Plus took home the grand prize trophy. They were honored for having the “People’s Choice Best Pizza.”

“Who would’ve thought a guy with one little shop and coming off a heart attack could have taken on the big boys and won?” he said. “In my heart, I knew I could make good pizza. Maybe everyone’s starting to realize that, too.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 653-6268 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.