We are honored that Gary took time out of his busy schedule to give us some insight into how all his successes came together. We talked about where the company started and where it is headed in the future. To listen to the full podcast episode, check us out in iTunes.
Gary’s grandfather traveled from Italy as a teenager to meet up with his half-brother, who lived in New York. Eventually, they both settled in CT where his grandfather got a job at a lock factory, before having to go back to Italy to fight in WW1.
When the war ended, he knew he had to come back to New Haven. When he arrived, he took up a new job working in a bakery. After some time, he started to flatten out the bakery dough and added a little sauce to it. This was ultimately the birth of pizza making in Connecticut.
After getting noticed for his exceptional pizza making skills he knew he would have to expand to better serve his customers. In 1925 he found a building with a coal fire oven, where he started making his famous pizzas.
Just to put this in perspective for you, he kept his business going through the depression, prohibition, and WWII. It’s truly amazing how the business stayed alive through all of those hardships. Not to mention having to go back to fight in the Italian Army! His success really speaks to the integrity and quality of the pizza.
His restaurant started as just a take-out place, but after a while and a bunch of loyal followers, Pepe’s became the first sit down pizza restaurant in Connecticut.
Though there have been a few additions to the ingredients list since 1925, Gary sticks to his grandfather’s cooking style. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Gary said that the most important part of Pepe’s pizza is the oven. Each restaurant is equipped with a brick, coal fire oven. The coal burns hotter than wood, which really seals in all the delicious Pepe’s flavors. The intense heat allows for a crispy edge with perfectly melted ingredients.
The second most important aspect of the pizza is the dough. Having, worked in a pizza restaurant before, I know that the pizza dough ingredients are very important. I’m sure there is a special process for making the amazing dough at Pepe’s that most people will never know.
The next most important thing is the overall quality of the ingredients. Gary and his team bring in only the finest of imported ingredients. They go through intense testing of ingredients which they refer to as the “Gauntlet”.
They bring in tomatoes from a bunch of different regions of Italy and narrow their choices down to 4 different types. After they have decided on those 4, they cook each one to see how the tastes change after being in the oven. Gary said that they sometimes taste good out of the can, but their taste profile changes after getting cooked. After the cooking test, they narrow their choices down to 2 different tomatoes that will serve as their amazing sauce.
They import about 15,000 cases of tomatoes every year. This allows them to keep consistency across all of their locations. All of these ingredients continually keep Pepe’s at the top of the pizza charts. They have even been named best white clam pizza 3 years running.
Gary’s grandfather would be so proud of the successful expansion of the flagship restaurant in New Haven. There are now 10 restaurants spanning from New York to Massachusetts. People all along the New England coast will eventually have the ability to taste this historic pizza.
Each restaurant keeps with tradition and shows the original family photos that were up in the New Haven restaurant when it first opened. This way you always see the same faces on the wall and feel right at home anytime you visit a new Pepe’s location.
The Pepe’s name is so well known that even when Gary goes on vacation to Aruba or traveling out west, people recognize his shirt and always say how much they love his pizza. It must be pretty cool to be known as “the pizza guy”. He has people walk up to him all over the country, that is the kind of fame everyone wishes for.
Gary will be the first to tell you that he can still make the best pizza. He only was responsible for making thousands of pizzas back in the day. Today, all Pepe’s locations combined are making a million pizzas a year. Gary’s long-lasting tradition lives on and feeds hundreds of thousands of families every year.
The whole foundation of Pepe’s is set in family tradition, so it makes sense that the theme is consistent throughout. You can expect to be greeted by a smiling face when you visit one of Gary’s locations.
Each pizza is made with you in mind, He makes sure that each location is creating pizzas that he is proud to serve to his customers. As they continue to grow, so will his family.
When you get the chance to visit a Pepe’s location, be sure to remember all of the hard work that it took to get this restaurant to where it is today. It’s no small miracle that this lone pizza shop made it through every obstacle thrown at it. We need to appreciate and respect the reputation and thoughtfulness that is put into every pizza.