Mo’s supreme pizza is topped with pepperoni, sausage, bell pepper, onion and mushrooms. (Sara Bruestle / The Herald)

Mo’s supreme pizza is topped with pepperoni, sausage, bell pepper, onion and mushrooms. (Sara Bruestle / The Herald)

Mo’s brings the spirit of Sbarro back to the mall food court

If you have fond memories of the once-ubiquitous pizza chain, help yourself to one of Mo Pizza’s slices.

If you miss Sbarro, you’ll get your fix at the Everett Mall.

No, the pizza chain isn’t back in Everett, but a longtime employee of Sbarro now has his own restaurant.

Mahamad Tunkara opened Mo Pizza in October, in the Navid Food spot in the food court. (If you don’t remember it, that’s because Navid was only around for six months.) For lunch recently, Herald colleague Mark Carlson and I tried some of Mo’s pizza by the slice.

Interestingly enough, Mark’s review of Navid Food mentions Sbarro.

“There was no sign of a Sbarro, which begs the question: Can a mall food court be a mall food court without a Sbarro?” he wrote in April. “Apparently it can, though I’d hate to see what would happen if Orange Julius went away.”

On this trip to the mall, we ordered slices of pepperoni-jalapeno, supreme and chicken-veggie pizza for $4.99 each.

Also on the Italian-American menu is Caesar salad, spaghetti, stuffed pizza, baked ziti, lasagna and stromboli, as well as meatballs, breadsticks and roasted red potatoes. We decided to try one of Tunkara’s pepperoni stromboli for $5.49.

The stromboli was pretty. It looked like a soft pretzel stuffed with pepperoni and mozzarella. Mark and I split that.

But it didn’t take me long to realize the pizza would have tasted better if it were hotter. Tunkara popped our slices in the commercial oven for just a few minutes. They needed at least 10. I should have asked him for more oven time — because this time the fast-food was too fast. After nuking my leftovers in the microwave at work, I liked Mo Pizza much more.

Tunkara — he’s the “Mo” of Mo Pizza — worked for Sbarro for about 23 years before the pizza chain closed more than 100 stores in 2014.

There was a time when you could find a Sbarro in every shopping mall in America. You could go to any mall and get a slice of cheese pizza for $3.29 nationwide.

In 2011, the often-criticized yet fifth-largest pizza chain in the U.S. declared bankruptcy. A Slate food writer called it “America’s least essential restaurant.”

Three years later, Sbarro closed 182 stores — including the ones in Everett and Lynnwood malls — and moved its headquarters from New York City to Columbus, Ohio. About 600 Sbarro pizza chains remain in the world. I’m guessing most of them aren’t in the U.S.

It took him about five years, but Tunkara, 47, of Lynnwood, is the proud owner-manager of a pizzeria bearing his name.

“I’ve been working in restaurants all my life,” Tunkara said. “This is my first business. With Sbarro’s bankruptcy, then I came in and opened my own business because … I know restaurants.”

Back to Mark’s question. Maybe the Everett Mall food court does need a Sbarro. And it found one in Mo Pizza.

“I have to confess to liking the pizza at one-time mall food court mainstay Sbarro,” said Mark, who is The Daily Herald’s print production manager. “Mo’s single slices rekindled those teenage memories.”

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