Pizzas are finally sliding steadily out of the ovens at Old Greg’s new pizza shop.
Greg Tetzner is no longer baking them in a rigged oven, lined with pizza stones, out of his childhood home. He’s not having to borrow the kitchen at a friend’s shuttered restaurant.
And most important to Tetzner, hungry pizza lovers can simply walk into his restaurant at the edge of the Design District, order one of his delicate, chewy round pies, pay a reasonable sum and eat it right at the counter — rather than enter an online lottery to pre-order a pizza a month out.
“I hated that. That was not the goal. I wanted this,” Tetzner says, gesturing to the quiet restaurant with Florida swamp wallpaper and bright yellow tables, where five diners are picking up pizzas behind him. “I wanted to be a local pizza shop where you could walk in and just get pizza.”
Old Greg’s pizza is a pandemic baby, a pop-up that became an unexpected hit — in wonderful and frustrating ways.
Tetzner and his longtime partner, Jackie Richie, conceived the idea weeks after restaurants were shuttered in March 2020, selling 20 pies a day out of their kitchen. Richie, a public relations professional out of work because of the pandemic, used her connections with influencers and local chefs to get their little pop-up attention so they could sell their pizzas, build some momentum for a restaurant one day, and most important, pay the bills, which were piling up.
Old Greg’s went reluctantly viral, with people bored at home scrolling Instagram and discovering the pizza, crashing the online ordering system. Some posted about the joys of success, with lovely pictures of Tetzner’s skillfully made pizzas. Others went away frustrated, creating a Yelp page just to leave negative reviews, unaware Tetzner and Richie were not running an actual restaurant.
Zipping around Old Greg’s now, the couple feels like a fever finally broke as they open their restaurant this week with regular hours for the first time.
Pandemic pop-ups came and went. But for a few like Old Greg’s that turned their part-time hustle into a permanent future, the road through the pandemic was treacherous.
‘Make some money’
Tetzner had learned the craft of pizza-making while working for Niven Patel, named one of Food & Wine’s 2020 best new chefs. But his time was monopolized at the restaurant so he took a job at the upstart bagel shop El Bagel — across the street from his home — so he could roll bagels in the morning and have the rest of the day free to work on his pizza.
The couple plunked down a deposit on their first pizza oven and prepared to mount a pop-up at Boxelder craft beer bar in Wynwood, where several other weekly pop-ups got their start. A week later, the pandemic struck.
Richie’s PR accounts went to zero. Tetzner’s shifts at El Bagel, rolling 1,200 bagels from 4-11 a.m., provided their only income. They couldn’t afford the oven they’d ordered and had to beg for their deposit back. The couple needed money, fast.
Old Greg’s already had a logo, an Instagram handle and Richie had contacts with influencers and chefs. It was time to bake pizza.
“It was to get the name out there and make some money,” Tetzner said.
Tetzner reworked his dough recipe to make square 10-by-14-inch pizzas so he could fit two at a time into his oven at home. But even punishing the non-commercial oven in 10-hour days, Tetzner could only make two pizzas an hour. The house always smelled of pizza and sourdough starter. Pickup was across the street at El Bagel.
“It took a year for the pizza smell to come out of the walls,” Richie said.
Tetzner used the best ingredients he could find: specialty Bianco DiNapoli organic tomatoes, organic mixed mushrooms, marinated olives and banana peppers, fine pepperoni. He didn’t have a restaurant address, so El Bagel founder Matteson Kolche ordered the ingredients for him through his suppliers.
“He knew exactly what he wanted to do and exactly the quality he wanted it to be,” Kolche said. “He’s not cutting corners. It’s the real deal.”
A Yelp backlash
Friends started buying pizzas and posting pictures on Instagram. The pies were too beautiful not to order.
When ordering opened at 1 p.m. Wednesdays, orders flooded in through Instagram direct messages. The couple knew they could only handle 20 pies a day so they limited orders to a week out; they sold out in five minutes. They expanded pre-orders to a month out; they sold out in 12.
That led to elated diners — but also to some disgruntled late-comers who seethed on social media without knowing Old Greg’s wasn’t a restaurant.
“We were reminded how harsh Yelp reviewers could be,” she said. “People’s expectations were huge.”
The pandemic squeezed harder. Random ingredients suddenly became scarce. At one point, Tetzner had to pay $30 for a $6 can of the organic tomatoes he demanded. There was a shortage of pepperoni for their biggest seller, OG Roni, drizzled with hot honey. He had to drive to stores from Kendall to Boca Raton to find the pepperoni he used. At one point, the company Hormel gave influencers packs of pepperoni to promote their products, and Richie wheedled several packs from marketing friends.
The couple had to learn to scale up. They jumped at the chance to use chef Brad Kilgore’s oven at his closed restaurant Kaido for three months. (He had ordered a pie for his birthday, also thinking they were a standalone restaurant.) They pumped their production up to 75 pies a day. Lines of customers snaked their way from the restaurant, down the escalators in the Design District. It still wasn’t enough.
Tetzner grew frustrated trying to fill orders made as far as six weeks out, especially with shortages suddenly making an ingredient ordered weeks before unavailable. Online reviews alternately lavished praise and frustration. They couldn’t keep up the pace — and abruptly stopped baking in September 2020 to focus on finding a permanent spot for Old Greg’s.
“That’s when it became not fun,” Tetzner said.
New York rents and unexpected illness
But New York City restaurants, mired in coronavirus restrictions that had been lifted in Florida, flooded Miami, snapping up built-out restaurants that closed during the pandemic. (Kilgore’s own was a casualty.) Twice the couple lost out to New Yorkers offering sometimes twice the rent. An “angel investor,” a close friend, helped them land their current spot in June 2021, almost a year after they had dropped off the scene.
Their new building needed a 40-year recertification, but they were assured it wouldn’t delay them. A week later, the condo tower in Surfiside collapsed, killing 98 people in the middle of its own 40-year certification. Inspections in Miami-Dade County froze for weeks. It would be another five months before anyone could so much as lift a hammer to renovate Old Greg’s restaurant.
More than a year had gone by in December 2021 when they were less than a month from opening. Would fickle Miami even remember Old Greg’s? Richie convinced Tetzner to open ordering on Instagram and bake a small batch of pizzas just for Christmas. They sold out 40 pizzas in matter of hours.
“A Christmas miracle,” Richie said.
They cobbled together a staff as hiring still remains a challenge. Tetzner’s childhood best friend, Gabriel Reigosa, a former bartender, came on as a do-everything staffer. And they hired the pizza chef behind Kendall’s Strange Beast brewpub, Doug Sorek, as Tetzner’s right hand.
“I was obsessed with his pizza from the beginning,” Reigosa said. “It’s a great feeling to see your friend succeed and grow.”
Quietly, Old Greg’s opened a store two years in the making in January, hoping to open fully at the end of the month — and then Richie got COVID-19.
And not just omicron sniffles. She has twice been hospitalized and continues to suffer effects, from cloudy thinking to shortness of breath that leaves her bedridden for days at a time, especially when the weather turns cold and humid, making it harder for her to breathe.
“I didn’t feel like myself, and I started getting really depressed,” Richie said. “This long COVID, it takes a toll on you.”
Finally a neighborhood spot
Watching the restaurant fill up today, on one of Richie’s good days when she can do more than keep the books from her bed, Tetzner can see the outlines of the restaurant they’d been dreaming of. They’ve even hooked local celebs like Miami Heat guard Gabe Vincent, who shouted them out on Instagram and later sent Tetzner a signed jersey and tickets as a thank you for once opening on a day off to make a special order.
“We’ve had an army of people who’ve had our backs,” Richie said.
Their pizza spot does not aspire to be a viral flash, Tetzner said. It will sponsor Little League teams and display their trophies on the bookcase. It will serve slices to a hungry lunch crowd. And whole, decadent 20-inch pies and crusty squares to young families who will come to rely on Old Greg’s.
“Greg’s so humble,” Richie says as Tetzner leaves the room to check on the ovens. “He’s so happy. I’ve never seen him get out of bed so fast to come here.”
Old Greg’s Pizza
Address: 3620 NE Second Ave., Design District
Hours: 5-10 p.m., Monday, Thursday-Friday. 3-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, by the slice only 3-5 p.m.
More info and takeout pre-orders: Oldgregspizza.com
This story was originally published March 21, 2022 6:00 AM.