“If you talk to a lawyer,” Paulie informs me, “and you talk to the F.T.C., they’ll tell ya that they’re franchises… but my intention is to build a brotherhood of pizza entrepreneurs, ok? I told the lawyers what I wanted to do. They told me I had to form a franchise company. They told me what it would cost to do that. So I decided to ask another lawyer. I told em what I wanted to do, they told me that I had to form a franchise company. So I asked a third lawyer. Third lawyer? Franchise company. So, I bit the bullet and I did that. But really I build personal relationships with these people. They come in, ya know, when they can, they work with me… Derrick, who is gonna open up with me in Chicago, he contacted me for advice and I was itching to do something in Chicago, I had read about Wicker Park which is a great neighborhood… and when I talked with him, I said, where ya thinking about opening and he said ya know, Naperville, or something… he had a mobile business already making pizza out that way, Za Pie… he thinks it was a nice name. Hopefully he’s not reading this. In any case, I said, that’s too bad because I was hoping to maybe do something with somebody in Wicker Park. And about five minutes later we were on our way.”
Besides the potential for press coverage if Paulie Gee opened his pizzeria in New York City, another benefit was the cost of a liquor license: $140,000 for a license in New Jersey versus $505/year for a beer and wine license in New York City. But of course, Paulie would still need investors. “I own 80% of this place,” says Paulie. “But I do have investors. And a friend of mine, one of my oldest friends really, helped me, and he didn’t even know it at the time. He said, ‘Those investors, they’re gonna wanna know that you’re spending 100% of your time thinking about your restaurant and not your day job. But they wouldn’t mind if you took extra salary to make up for that.’ And that kinda opened up my mind on that. I said, ‘I’m gonna do this, this is great.’ And I started looking in Manhattan a little bit… but Brooklyn was calling me home.”
From day one Paulie Gee made his own fresh mozzarella. He also made his own Limoncello. And he kept experimenting with different dough recipes and different types of pies. “I started inviting people over to my house to practice on them,” he says. “I was desperate to get people over to my house so I could try this new pie out and I’d do it about every two weeks.”
Paulie Gee’s pizza tasting parties have since become a legend unto themselves among the pizza enthusiast community: about eight people would gather in Paulie’s backyard, listening to music, enjoying Limoncello, as the pizzas were prepped in the kitchen and fired in the backyard oven. Paulie remembers the tastings fondly, though one difficulty was that with the prep area inside and the oven outside, he couldn’t work the oven and make the pizza. “The oven had to be 1,000 degrees,” Paulie explains. “So I always had to enlist the help of someone else to work the fire. And there were various degrees of success that those people had, mostly based on their attitude, ok? My son was a tremendous oven master. A lot of times people come in, they work the fire, they go sit down and watch the Mets game, usually the Met game, the Yankee fans stay out there and they really work that thing, but Mets fans they go in and sit down. Then I go out with the pizza looking for a hot oven, and ‘Uh-oh!’ So I learned it was Yankee fans that I wanted to have, this is a true story!”
After working toward a BFA in Photography from SVA, Paulie Gee moved to Miami but missed New York and came back after just a short stint. “It must have been fate because that’s when I met my wife,” Paulie says. Having seen her on the train a couple of times, he saw her at a bar in Bay Ridge one night. “She was with friends and I said, ‘I know you.’ ‘No you don’t.’ ‘Yes, I do. You take the R train.’”
Proceeding to flirt with all her friends throughout the night, ignoring his future wife, Mary Ann. “Maybe I danced with her once,” Paulie says. “And at the end of the night, her girlfriend shoved her telephone number in my hand. That was basically it. In case she’s reading this, it was November 12th 1976.”
Editor’s note: this story is presented in five parts, stay tuned!
Part I: No More Takeout
To live in Greenpoint is to know Paulie Gee’s pizzeria. Since the restaurant first opened on Greenpoint Avenue in 2010, Paulie Gee’s became first a neighborhood institution, then a dining destination, and now an ethos unto itself, captained by none other than Paul Giannone himself (a.k.a. “Paulie Gee”).
Dining at Paulie Gee’s is truly an experience, if you can get in. Like many Brooklyn institutions, Paulie Gee’s does not take reservations. These days a line will form as early as 4pm for a table on the weekends. After 8pm? Fuggetaboutit. But if you do manage to get in, entering the restaurant is like entering a rustic pizza palace, a candle-lit cathedral of pie.Continue reading →