Remember the pizza place you grew up with? The one you still talk about years later with old friends? Pienezza Pizza—recently opened in Kissimmee—hopes to be that place for you and your family.
Round, square, Sicilian deep dish or thin and crispy—fresh slices wait behind a glass case when you enter the new pizzeria at The Loop. A toppings list starts with sesame crust and runs the gamut of pizza dreams for the meat-lover, vegetarian, vegan or allergy-prone alike. If one of their “Slices of Heaven” isn’t enough, grab a personal, medium or large pie. Or maybe you’re in the mood for a calzone, a salad or a “Big Fat Sandwich.” Thrill seekers could try running “The Gauntlet” a parmigiana sandwich made for six, but if two can finish it in under 35 minutes… comes free of charge.
With a location just two doors down from a 16-screen Regal Cinemas, it’s easy to assume that the polished ‘Pienezza’ sign is just another beacon for another chain restaurant… but it’s not. In fact, Pienezza Pizza is the only single-location eatery in The Loop.
“We use family recipes,” said owner John Garrett. “There’s a pride in the sauce and the way the dough and bread is made.”
That pride extends far beyond the sauce and bread. For Garrett, the family business culture goes back to the ‘70s when his grandfather Vincent ran a pizza place called Cavaliere’s in Long Island, New York.
Back then, Grandpa Vincent’s wife and seven children helped keep the place running for around a decade, creating lasting memories and a community of friends around the table in the process. Establishing that same kind of shared experience is something Garrett hopes will come through for his customers as much as the flavors in the meals he serves.
The name itself “Pienezza” (pee eh netzuh) is an Italian word for “fullness” or “stuffed.”
“But we say it Pie – nezza,” explained Garrett—due in equal parts to its ease of pronunciation in English, the association between “pie” and “pizza” and because “nezza” means “of fine quality” in Italian.
Above the Pienezza dining tables, four values are hanging on the wall: Table, Family, Pizza, Joy.
From a behind-the-scenes perspective, “Balance” might be another strong point to add to that list. On one side of the scale, Pienezza brings a family’s desire to establish an “old neighborhood” Brooklyn-style “mom and pop” to palm-tree-dotted Central Florida. On the other side, they’re also appealing to the guests more familiar with that certain modern polish that’s usually associated with the countless chain eateries in the area.
“There’s a gaping hole in Florida food culture,” Garrett said.
Pienezza Pizza is a place where the owners and operators are at the shop daily. It was important to him to provide the service and familiarity that he missed from the Northeast eateries he grew up with—often in out of the way locations where their discovery was part of the enjoyment of the meal.
At Pienezza, guests aren’t greeted with a script. Someone who cares about your transaction as a guest is setting the table. Moreso, it’s someone who cares about the human transaction of sharing the love of what he’s cooking—both on the plate and in the community.
Today, Garrett and wife Nikki’s children are experiencing the culture he grew up with. Angelina, 14; Nikki, 12; Giuseppe, 8; and Eliana, 6 are as likely to be seen around Pienezza in Kissimmee as Grandpa Vincent’s family was to be seen at Cavaliere’s back on Long Island in the ‘70s.
“It’s a piece of a much bigger picture,” said Garrett.
Past opportunities to start something like Pienezza had been delayed at a time when ambition in business had driven his efforts. Now, he says, his children, religion, family and community are more important and made it a real family endeavor.
“We want to become that place where kids grow up and talk about when they were little,” he said.