Jon Corbo and Matt Watson met in kindergarten at Glenville School and became fast friends.
After graduating Greenwich High School together, they became familiar faces over the course of 18 years working in retail food service in town. Along the way they both married and have young kids of their own.
Recently, Corbo and Watson opened Grigg Street Pizza, a stone’s throw from Greenwich Avenue, and when they’re not stretching and twirling pizza dough, they’re fussing over their “mother” in a glass jar.
The “mother yeast,” that is.
A whiff of the bubbling yeast is appealing, triggering fond memories of baking from scratch.
“It’s better for you,” Watson said. “Our pizza has no commercial yeast. It’s 100 percent natural leaven.”
Watson said perfecting the “mother yeast” has been a challenge, involving trial and error. Variables are as specific as the temperature and humidity variations between different rooms within 1 Grigg Street.
“We’re in a pretty happy place right now,” Watson said, admiring the mother yeast. “But it continues to evolve and get stronger.”
Watson and Corbo had been eyeing 1 Grigg Street for a possible joint pizza venture for quite some time, but when it last became available, Lord of the Pies snagged it first.
They were disappointed because they had fond high school memories of visits to 1 Grigg Street in the 1990s when it was home to “The Juice Spot.”
“Our friend group worked at Adventure Kids on Old Track Road during our senior year,” Corbo recalled, smiling at the incongruity of the 90’s kids play zone craze, and the colorful plastic ball pits with today’s Covid-19 pandemic.
“We had friends who worked at The Juice Spot and we always liked this street and this building,” he added. “It’s funny that 20 years later we have our business here. It’s a cute quiet street opposite the book store.”
So when Lord of the Pies closed and Watson and Corbo were able to assume the lease in November 2019, they were thrilled.
But the road became bumpy again.
“Our plan was to open in time for the St Patrick’s Parade, standing out front, handing out pizza, and hanging out,” Watson recalled. “We knew everyone would recognize us from our previous 18 years experience in Greenwich. Little did we know that come March there was going to be a pandemic.”
“St Patrick’s Day was a Tuesday and they shut downtown on Friday,” he added. “That was it. We put the brakes on. We didn’t know exactly what to do.”
In retrospect, Corbo said, the extra downtime from the shutdown meant time to further tweak the mother yeast.
“Should we let it sit out a little longer. It got up to 100° a few days, so the dough was rising too fast,” he recalled.
“We gave it a couple weeks and decided to open with only night service three nights a week – Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” Watson said. “Fridays are big pizza nights.”
Corbo and Watson served just pizza, toppings and salads at first.
“That’s all we did. It was just the two of us and no employees,” Corbo said, adding they were reluctant to hire employees, given so much uncertainty.
“The response from the community was fantastic. Everyone supported us,” Matt said, adding that Corbo’s neighbors all volunteered to wash dishes and hand pizzas out. “That was fantastic.”
“The buzz was out there and we were selling out pizzas for eight weeks straight, between May and June.”Matt Watson, Grigg Street Pizza
For a time, Grigg Street was shut to traffic to create a pedestrian mall at the bottom of Greenwich Ave. A jersey barrier across Grigg Street was steps from the entrance of the restaurant.
But the road reopened later in June, which was more good news.
The menu expanded just so much.
“We added salads,” Watson said. “And once we had a full time employee working with us, we started to prepare more dough to exceed the sell out quantity. Once we had a bit more practice, and established a rhythm, we knew we could successfully offer more.”
Still he said they held back to focus solely on the highest quality product possible.
“If we’d expanded too fast, or without employees – even with a great response, it would have been tough to succeed with every single pie,” Watson said. “We put effort into every single pie, which worked in our favor.”
“Our product is doing the majority of the legwork to carry our business. There is a an extremely high percentage who return. We are committed to the highest quality ingredients.”Matt Watson, Grigg Street Pizza
“We’re not like a diner with 1,000 different options,” Watson continued. “We feel this is a good size. Even the modest length of the menu reflects a lot of work.”
“Things are returning to half normal,” Watson added, noting lunch service is growing. “There was a large community we expected was going to be available to us: office workers from Fawcett Place, retail employees, and workers from Steamboat Road and Pickwick Plaza, but they have not returned,” Watson said. “They may be at 25 percent capacity.”
“Still,” he said. “Word of mouth has been huge! Especially family-to-family for night time service! Word spread all over social media.”
The pizzas are one size, 16-inches, and the crust is the perfect combination of crispy and chewy.
Watson and Corbo say they make as much of their product in-house from scratch. The sausage, ham, fresh mozzarella, and all dressings are made in house, including real Caesar dressing.
“We also make all the pickles, pickled onions and roasted beets for the roasted beet salad,” Watson said.
The menu has expanded to include salads and sandwiches.
Our favorite is the Italian, with salami, mortadella, capocollo, fresh mozzarella, mixed greens, roasted red pepper, onion, pepperoncini peppers, balsamic and oil.
The ham and cheese features house cured pork loin, gruyere cheese and Vermont butter.
And the bread!
“Because we’re using all the sourdough in house, I wanted to try to duplicate it and make sandwiches with it,” Watson said. “But that is another job entirely. That would mean getting here at 3:00am.”
Watson and Corbo reached out to Jeff Kohn at The Kneaded Bread in Port Chester, NY.
“Everybody’s loved them since they opened 19 years ago,” he said of the bakery in Port Chester. “Everything about them is great, and we knew we were in good hands. Jeff was excited to make a sourdough baguette for us.”
During our interview, an old high school friend, Casey Deck Prchal, popped in to try the pizza, saying she’d just returned from her wedding.
“I’ve known Matt forever,” she said. “Everything he’s ever done with food has been amazing,” she said.
Grigg Street Pizza is located at 1 Grigg Street.
Tel. (203) 717-1190
For now, Grigg Street Pizza hours are:
Thursday – Saturday 11-8
Closed Sunday and Monday