Call it The Layover: Part Two.
That’s the backstory of how a single New York pizza shop, Paulie Gee’s, became a multiple-location business, landing of all places in our own Columbus, Ohio.
One four-hour period stranded in the capital city and a subsequent stroll through the Short North planted the seed for Paul Giannone, and when a recent Columbus-to-Greenpoint transplant booked her rehearsal dinner at the New York location, her father mentioned to Giannone that if he ever decided he’d be interested in expanding to Columbus, he would be more than happy to help bring it here.
That father and daughter, Ken and Meredith Peters, are certainly a huge reason why as of February a pizza-crazy city has another pie to add to its plate, but the reason why you’re getting the same pizza experience at two locations 543 miles away is T.J. Gibbs.
Studying hospitality and business administration, Gibbs, the Columbus owner/operator, ended up essentially entering into an unofficial pizza internship in 2014.
Connecting to Giannone through a mutual friend in real estate development, Gibbs was invited to fly to Brooklyn and try the pie back in 2010. That trip turned into several over the course of his remaining college days, and after graduation, he made New York his home for a year, consuming himself in Paulie Gee’s Greenpoint shop.
Now, with his own Paulie Gee’s firing up in the Short North, Gibbs is staying true to the original vision, but putting his own stamp on the Midwestern version.
“The goal is and was not to recreate it,” he said. “Really, we’re trying to make this as organic to Columbus as possible.”
Organic to Columbus is exactly the way you would describe Gibbs’ staff, who he’s compiled (along with the menu) via the assistance of former DeepWood owner Amber Herron, who helped recruit Christina Basham (The Kitchen) to be their “bar creative” and Samantha Johnson Miller (Local Bar) to be front of house manager.
“Taking what I learned in Brooklyn, the most important thing is the people you choose to work with,” Gibbs said. “I think we’ve done a tremendous job pulling in people who represent the best of Columbus.”
Gibbs is also borrowing an approach he observed from Paulie Gee himself, who delighted in collaborating with other places in the community.
“Something I admired was the way that each individual owner/operator viewed another—not as competition, but as colleagues,” said Gibbs, who name-checks Harvest as one of the first slices he was impressed with in Columbus. “It was odd coming from the outside in, seeing what is one of the best pizza climates in the world and you’re watching them lending each other flour and tomatoes when they’re short. They’re all supporting one another. They admire, draw inspiration, and pay tribute to each other.”
Outside the pizza circle, Gibbs fell in love with Ray Ray’s, so one of his first menu decisions was to enlist owner Jamie Anderson to not only supply brisket for a their custom collaboration Hog Pit pie, but also had Anderson show the staff how to break it down and serve it to his own standards.
Other nods to Columbus include the aptly-titled cocktail Brooklyn, By Way of Columbus, created by Basham using OYO Dark Pumpernickel Rye as a base.
Gibbs spends a large part of his time in the kitchen, working to make the staff comfortable, sharing his knowledge of what he has learned, but will have a stronger presence in the front of the house—just like his pizza predecessor in Brooklyn.
And just like Paulie Gee—who Gibbs says “lends his full support and creativity”—the Columbus location is making its own mark. Think the same crust, but differing ingredients. And Gibbs hopes to add to those ingredients by further collaborating with others within the Columbus food and spirits scene.
“I think that’s one of the great things of being in a big/little city more or less, is that it’s pretty easy to identify with folks through one person or another,” he said.
What’s pizza for if not for sharing? •
Paulie Gee’s is located at 1195 N High St. For more, visit pauliegee.com.