Last week was my grandmother’s 95th birthday and she celebrated it with a visit to Slice House in Walnut Creek. This is one of Tony Gemignani’s many pizzerias and it’s just blocks away from Grandma’s apartment. Once I heard she was planning to stop by with some of her neighbors, I shot Tony a text to give him a heads up and to make arrangements to pay for their pizza.
Some quick background here for those of you who haven’t heard of Tony Gemignani: he’s a total beast in the pizza industry. Tony operates dozens of pizzerias, including his home bases at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, Slice House, and Capo’s (all in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco). As an author, he’s penned a children’s book about pizza and the aptly titled The Pizza Bible. Tony runs the International School of Pizza, which is accredited by the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli in Italy. Those who can’t train at the school can learn from his Pizza Expo seminars and online videos. I don’t think many people will argue when I say that Tony Gemignani is the hardest working person in pizza.
Since Tony’s such a busy guy, it’s shocking when he responds to a text as quickly as he responded to mine. As luck would have it, he was planning to be on-site at the Slice House location near my grandmother for some training exercises. He asked me for their group size and estimated arrival time so he could prep his team.
When the group arrived at Slice House, they unexpectedly walked into a pizza party! Slice House set aside some outdoor seating and Tony himself entertained the group with some pizza dough acrobatics. (Tony’s career initially took off because of his award-winning pizza dough spinning skills.) My grandmother and her crew had no idea what they were walking into — a legit surprise pizza party!
There are a lot of amazing people in the pizza industry and Tony is at the top of that list. Forget the dough spinning; forget the award-winning pizza; forget the dramatic decor in his restaurants; forget his many many TV appearances — what makes Tony so great is that he truly cares about people. He knows I don’t get to see my grandmother as often as I’d like because we’re on opposite coasts. He made her feel like a queen at her surprise pizza party and that’s about as close as I could get to being there in person.
Huge thanks to Tony and his staff for making this such a special day. I look forward to my next visit to thank everybody in person!