6sqft’s series “Where I Work” takes us into the studios, offices, and businesses of New Yorkers across the city. In this installment, we’re going inside Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop in Greenpoint. Want to see your business featured here? Get in touch!
Long-time pizza enthusiast Paulie Giannone opened his first wood-fired pizza restaurant, Paulie Gee’s, in 2010 on Greenpoint Avenue in Brooklyn. Since then, he’s opened locations in Miami, Columbus, Ohio, Chicago, and Baltimore. Most recently, though, he came back to his roots with Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop, just a few blocks away from his original spot in Greenpoint. While Paulie’s restaurants center around gourmet pizzas, including many vegan options, the Slice Shop specializes in classic New York City-style and Sicilian slices. In keeping with this classic pizza joint feel, the Slice Shop’s retro décor is inspired by the pizzerias Paulie Gee frequented while growing up in Kensington, Brooklyn.
We had a chance to speak with Paulie at the newly opened Slice Shop and sample some of the delicious pizzas, including his classic cheese slice and his sauceless Mootz. He filled us in on how he got his start in the pizza business, where he found the ’60s and ’70s decor, and his reaction to the long lines New Yorkers are waiting on to get a slice of Paulie Gee’s.
One of the Slice Shop’s specialties is the pepperoni slice with Mike’s Hot Honey–aka “The Hellboy.”
Tell us how you transitioned from a career as an IT professional to the pizza business?
I always loved to cook and although people encouraged me to, I never wanted to open a restaurant. However, I had to do something and observed that running a pizzeria was a simpler process and that emboldened me. To that end, I built a pizza oven at my home in New Jersey and experimented making different pies. After many tries, I proved to myself that I could make pizza that was good enough to sell. Initially, I was going to open up in New Jersey. I didn’t know how I would open a pizza place without having to continue to work, so I thought I had to find a place close to my day job and hire somebody to keep an eye on it during the day. I would keep it going as a nighttime-only place like Paulie Gee’s is today.
In the restaurant, the pizza is made using a $20,000 Stefano Ferrara wood-fired oven with kiln-dried hardwoods. In the Slice Shop, it’s made with four gas-fired ovens.
When I told my friend Jimmy C. about my plan, he said to me, “You know that you are going to need an investor.” He told me that if somebody is going to invest in me, “They are going to want to know that you are focusing on the pizzeria 100% of your time. They are not going to mind if you take extra money in salary so that you can support yourself while running the business.” So that made me realize that I didn’t have to open a place in New Jersey. Brooklyn was calling me home!
I fell in love with Williamsburg but since I had picked the brains of every wood-fired pizza guy I knew for advice, and there was one guy in Williamsburg in particular who was very helpful to me, I didn’t want to step on his toes by opening so close to his restaurant. He suggested I look in Park Slope, but I couldn’t find anything there; it just didn’t feel right. I went to Greenpoint and at first looked on Manhattan Avenue. I was very disappointed because I was looking for artists, musicians, tattoos, and bicycles but all I found was $1.00 stores and Polish restaurants. But I was persistent and eventually fell in love with this area around the intersection of Greenpoint Avenue and Franklin Street. It had a certain buzz to it and I was smitten.
The 46-seat Slice Shop is counter-service only. It closes at 2am on Fridays and Saturdays to cater to the late-night crowd.
What made you decide to open a slice joint in addition to your highly successful Paulie Gee’s restaurant?
I wasn’t planning on opening a slice shop, but I always wanted an old-school, classic kind of pizza place. Two years ago, I had four different pizzerias opening in four different cities and had my hands full. But Andrew Brown, my longtime staffer, encouraged me to think about a slice joint and said that he would take care of everything and I wouldn’t have to worry about a thing! I knew that I couldn’t stay away from everything, but Andrew has really taken care of a lot.
From the beginning, I had already decided what I wanted this place to be. I knew that I wanted the slice shop to look like an old-school pizzeria with a mid-century modern look just like many of the pizzerias I went to as a kid in the 1960s and ’70s. I didn’t need to hire a designer because all of these old pizzerias were all I needed for inspiration. The orange booths were the first design element. I knew I wanted them but I didn’t realize what the rest would look like when it all came together.
How did you find the orange booths?
The orange booths were from a pizza place in New Jersey called Joe’s Pizza in Martinsville. The owner had remodeled his shop and when I originally planned to open a slice joint over two years ago, I went there to pick his brains about running a slice shop. I showed him a picture of the booths inside Elegante Pizzeria in Bay Ridge and he excitedly said, “I have those!” I had totally forgotten that my children used to sit in them. He told me that they were in his garage and that he was about to get rid of them. If I wanted them, they were mine because he was about to chop them all up. I rented a U-Haul and went there with my son and took all eight booths he had. That was back in 2016 when I had not even signed the lease for this space, so they sat in my garage for over two years.
How did you find the rest of the décor including the Atari gaming console, complete with vintage TV and molded plastic seating as well as the vintage coke machines and the lime green bar chairs?
The Atari set I bought when my wife and I first got married in 1979 and lived in Sheepshead Bay. I found it in storage in my garage and knew I had to somehow use it at the shop. The molded plastic chairs have a good story behind them. When I was a young man, I used to play pool at a lot of pool halls and quite a number of them had those chairs. I always loved them and hunted near and far for a set when I first moved to my house in New Jersey. My garage has a loft upstairs where I installed a pool table so I got those chairs to put alongside it. I bought them in 1985 for $180 from a pool hall in Emerson, NJ. I could have bought 10 of them, but only got this one pair. The whole idea just came to me one day to install the Atari gaming set with a vintage TV and use the plastic molded chairs as a retro gaming corner at the slice shop.
The bar stools are from a place on Delancey Street. I knew I needed some high top-bar stools from the same era as the orange booths. I remembered seeing some promotional photos from a private club that had just opened up in Philadelphia and they had these beautiful high-top chairs in deep rich muted colors. I used that photo as inspiration and found these lime green chairs. There was just something about how the orange and lime green went together that I really liked. I also used the wood paneling for the walls because a bunch of old-school pizzerias had wood paneling. I call it basement paneling and figured that not only would it look good with the décor but it would also save me money, as it is not expensive at all. I also installed the black-and-white checkered floor, as that too is very old school.
The vintage Coke machines I specifically purchased for the shop. One of them, my friend Scott found for me in Bed-Stuy. I only paid $200 for it but it doesn’t work. The other machine was $1,000 and when I picked it up from this guy in Park Slope it actually worked. You dropped a quarter in it and it would light up with “Have a Coke” and you would pull the bottle out. I guess it was damaged while moving, but I haven’t had a chance yet to fiddle around with it.
I look around now and the place is beyond what I ever imagined. There are still some little touches I have to finish such as repairing my vintage double-bowl beverage dispenser, but I have all the basics including my 1960s ’70s Yankees memorabilia lining the walls. You’ll see no Derek Jeter or new players on the wall. This place is a Yankee homage to the old-school Yankees.
Speaking of the Yankees, tell us more about the vibe you want to create with the retro music playing and Yankees games on the wide-screen TVs?
I have a playlist here that is all from my own collection of music. I really love playing music from the late ’60s and early ’70s. I don’t want to use the term deep cuts because it sounds like a Dad term and I want the music here to be more pop-oriented. The playlist at my Greenpoint Avenue restaurant is FM music but the Slice Shop is AM. I developed it by first adding music that was in the top 100 as a rule of thumb. I also delved into some great regional music that never made the national charts. I am up to 1,900 songs already but I’m constantly adding more because the regional songs definitely keep it interesting. The music also has to be played loud! My employees in both places always turn the music down, but when I come in, I turn it back up. The back dining area of the Slice Shop, which originally was a four-car garage, also functions as a sports bar, with wine and beer on tap.
In the Slice Shop, whole eight-slice pies are available for take-out. There are also two traditional dessert options–lemon ice from the Lemon Ice King of Corona and spumoni from L & B Spumoni Gardens.
What is your reaction to the overwhelming response people have had to your new slice shop?
We had our struggles the first couple days but now we are really hitting our stride. I didn’t expect the long lines! I even posted a photo of the long lines on our Instagram account and somebody commented, “I was afraid this would happen.” I posted back that “I was afraid it wouldn’t.” But here we are and the place is doing really well. Every day we are getting better. I am not totally satisfied with the selection we are serving yet as I want to add Sicilian pies and more vegan options as well as add pizza delivery since take-out and delivery are NOT available at my Paulie Gee’s restaurant. Our biggest issue now is learning to cut the slices properly and evenly…it’s a challenge, as we don’t have to worry about that at Paulie Gee’s since only whole pies are served.
Any final words?
It’s a real struggle to figure out where I want to be and where I need to be between my two Greenpoint restaurants. I go back and forth, and I find that I am not in either one of them long enough, which is why I never originally wanted to open more than one place. I have Andrew to help me but I really enjoy going back and seeing the yin and the yang. I created two different places that are so far apart from one another in design and aesthetic but are focused on serving the same thing– pizza! I still can’t believe that I did this and both places came out nicer than I ever imagined.
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James and Karla Murray are husband-and-wife New York-based photographers and authors. Their critically acclaimed books include Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York, New York Nights, Store Front II- A History Preserved and Broken Windows-Graffiti NYC. The authors’ landmark 2008 book, Store Front, was cited in Bookforum’s Dec/Jan 2015 issue as one of the “Exemplary art books from the past two decades” and heralded as “One of the periods most successful New York books.” New York Nights was the winner of the prestigious New York Society Library’s 2012 New York City Book Award. James and Karla Murray’s work has been exhibited widely in major institutions and galleries, including solo exhibitions at the Brooklyn Historical Society, Clic Gallery in New York City, and Fotogalerie Im Blauen Haus in Munich, Germany, and group shows at the New-York Historical Society and the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale, CA. Their photographs are included in the permanent collections of major institutions, including the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the New York Public Library, and NYU Langone Medical Center. James and Karla were awarded the 2015 Regina Kellerman Award by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) in recognition of their significant contribution to the quality of life in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo. James and Karla live in the East Village of Manhattan with their dog Hudson.
Neighborhoods : Greenpoint