Interview with Paulie Gee
Paulie: I chose a career as a corporate IT professional around 1980 while working for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in the World Trade Center. Although it turned out that I wasn’t wired for that type of work, I toiled at it for about 30 years. I did not realize it wasn’t for me until I had established financial commitments that kept me locked into that path. I had to provide for my family, and was not going to deprive them of an enjoyable lifestyle, so I continued to accumulate debt to make that happen. Looking back I now realize that it wasn’t just that I wasn’t a geek, but that I was not meant to have a boss but, instead, to be the boss. The result was that I wasn’t anywhere near approaching my potential. I always enjoyed cooking for and entertaining friends and family and they often encouraged me to open a restaurant, but I had no desire to deal with the complications and risks that such a venture would bring. Being a pizza enthusiast, through observation I eventually observed that an artisanal pizzeria was a far simpler operation than a full service restaurant. That realization emboldened me to make the decision to open a pizzeria. Through business success principals learned in the corporate world, and while pursuing the development of a multi-level marketing business, combined with my guerrilla marketing efforts, I began to create what eventually became Paulie Gee’s and our network entrepreneurial outposts. It all started by building an oven at what I now refer to as my country home in semi-rural New Jersey. After two years of experimenting and practicing on friends, family, fellow pizza enthusiasts and potential investors I found the courage to cross a couple of rivers and sign a lease on a beautiful space in an up and coming section of Greenpoint in Brooklyn. That quest also involved me befriending all of the pizzeria owners I admired and aspired to be like. I sought their advice and they all very graciously provided it to me along with a great deal encouragement. Those were, but were not limited to, Mathieu Palombino of Motorino, Mark Iocono of Lucali, Anthony Mangieri of Uns Pizza Napoletana, Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco, Tom and Stalin of Nomad, Chris Parachini of Roberta’s and Michael Ayoub of Fornino. And none of that would have been possible without the financial and emotional support of my friends and family, who demonstrated their belief in me via their precious hard earned cash.
PQ: Why do you think people love your pizzas so much? What is it that has allowed you to distinguish your style and product in a very crowded pizza world?
Paulie: I believe, in addition to a somewhat unique pizza crust — which started BTW with the Neo-Neopolitan dough recipe in your American Pie — and some unique sweet and savory topping combinations, people find me to be someone to root for. They like my story and I enjoy interacting with them. I do not treat Paulie Gee’s as a business. Being there six nights a week and enjoying it makes ours a welcoming dining experience. I do my best to remain humble when people compliment our pizza and I always recommend other pizzerias to my guests. I enjoy other people’s pizza as much as my own and love to share my appreciation with others. I think people sense that I am, first and foremost, a pizza enthusiast. I always wear hats from other pizzerias and when guests question why I’m wearing my competitor’s hat I point out that I have no competitors, just colleagues. No one on the staff is permitted to wear Paulie Gee’s logo wear. I want the place to feel like a neighborhood dining experience, so no uniforms are worn. I want the staff to dress just like our guests. I want the place to feel like the “Little Rascals” opened a pizzeria. Unfortunately for Spanky and his gang though, they didn’t have Evan and Oliver Haslegrave of Home Studios to build their restaurant. The seductive space they created for me is a major reason people enjoy dining with us again and again.
- Never consider failure, and know that every problem can be solved.
- Learn from those who have gone before you.
- You have no competitors, just colleagues.
- Set up five interviews for dishwashers and only one will show up. They just want an email they can use to demonstrate that they are looking for work.
- If you want a good dishwasher hire someone who wants to be a pizza maker.
- People love when an owner is present to assure that their guests are having an enjoyable experience.
- If you make a pizza suggestion to your guests and tell them that if they don’t like it they can have any other pie on the menu on the house, they never take you up on the offer.
- People stay a lot longer when it’s raining out or when it’s 15 degrees outside.
- When a staff member tells you “Don’t Paulie worry, I gotcha”, they usually don’t gotcha.
- Never tell a guest that your pizza is better than anyone else’s, or admit to it if they proclaim it to be.
- Everyone is a VIP at Paulie Gee’s.
- Always expect friends you haven’t heard from in a long time to contact you and let you know that they are coming in on Saturday night at 8 o’clock.
PQ: Now that you are expanding into other locations beyond the original Greenpoint (Brooklyn) store, and licensing people to use your name and brand, how are you protecting the quality and assuring customers that they are getting the true Paulie Gee’s pizza experience if you’re not there making the pizzas?
Paulie: I don’t make the pizza at Paulie Gee’s either. I partner with people who are obligated to be at their location six nights a week and want to be. I do my best to work with people who want to live the pizza entrepreneur lifestyle and are not just looking for another asset line on their balance sheet. Additionally, there are certain ingredients they are obligated to use. Fortunately, I can tell if a pizza is being prepared properly just by looking at it. Rather than ask them to send me pictures, I simply look at the many photos that guests post on social media.
PQ: Your website (www.pauliegee.com ) lists five current locations, with a slice shop soon to come. Who are some of the “stars,” or Paulie Gee protégé’s, that people should know about if they go to any of those locations?
PQ: Thanks so much, Paulie, for all you’ve done to move the dial on great pizza and for inspiring so many others. Best of success as you continue your growth and spread your message of humility.
Pizza Quest Info
Pizza Quest is a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms, wherever we find it, but especially through the literal and metaphorical image of pizza. As we share our own quest for the perfect pizza we invite all of you to join us and share your journeys too. We have discovered that you never know what engaging roads and side paths will reveal themselves on this quest, but we do know that there are many kindred spirits out there, passionate artisans, doing all sorts of amazing things. These are the stories we want to discover, and we invite you to jump on the proverbial bus and join us on this, our never ending pizza quest.
...and other books by Peter Reinhart, available on Amazon.com