Gore pizza shop owner noted for giving back
GORE – Cindy Irwin jokingly refers to herself as “a little pizza operator in Gore,” but the impact she’s made in her community and beyond hasn’t gone unnoticed.
For her efforts to establish Gore’s annual Easter egg hunt and help locals in times of need, the longtime owner and operator of Gambino’s Pizza will receive the Business Award at this year’s inaugural Seven Feathers Award Gala presented by the Cherokee Phoenix.
“I feel that if the community has been as supportive as my communities have been of my business all these years, that’s what you’re supposed to do,” Irwin said. “You’re supposed to give back.”
Irwin, a Cherokee Nation citizen, opened her pizza shop in November 1994.
“When I was 16, I went to work in pizza and for whatever reason, loved it,” she said. “I stuck with it, so when I was 31, I moved to Gore and opened my restaurant. When I first opened this store, I knew it was important for me to be involved in the community.”
Her initiation into community service began immediately with the creation of a town Easter egg hunt, a tradition that’s since taken on a life of its own.
“The first spring, Easter was coming up and I said, ‘Where does everybody have the Easter egg hunt?’ They said, ‘Well we don’t do an Easter egg hunt.’ This spring will be 26 Easters ago, and I’ve done the Easter egg hunt ever since,” Irwin said. “The city supports it now. Back in the early days, me and whoever I could round up would go get donations from different businesses.”
Irwin remains involved with the event, and will “until I’m too old.”
This spring, Irwin and many others rallied to assist victims of historic flooding in Webbers Falls and surrounding communities.
“I couldn’t even tell you how many pizzas we donated to either churches or fire departments,” she said. “Once we took a bunch of pizzas, and the driver met a boat on the road. The boat turned around and took it back to town. That’s how flooded it was.”
For the past six months, Irwin has donated 50 percent of the first Tuesday and Wednesday buffet profits to flooding victims.
“I would say probably 80 percent of the homes in Webbers had water damage,” she said. “So many people that lived in Webbers were renting. They didn’t have flood insurance. If the owner of the place had flood insurance, it certainly wasn’t going to help the people that were renting. That was a sad time. It still is for a lot of people. You drive through town and see the devastation that’s still there.”
Gambino’s marked 25 years in business on Nov. 7.
“Everyone was so excited to have a pizza place in Gore,” one customer recalled on Facebook. “Thank you for being a part of our communities.”
Two years ago, Irwin opened her second Gambino’s, this time in the nearby town of Checotah.
In addition to running the two restaurants, for nearly 22 years Irwin has periodically worked at the site of a former uranium processing plant near Gore. The Sequoyah Fuels Corporation plant ceased operation in 1993, but a crew was later tasked with decommissioning the site, Irwin said.