Oh. My. God.
That was my reaction stepping into Gerrard Pizza.
If you’ve been there recently for the first time in say, four weeks, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Can you believe the transformation?
White walls, now a dark smokey blue. 1980s disco-inspired lights replaced with custom-built hanging mason jars, each fitted with an old-fashioned Edison lightbulb.
New bench seating down the front, where once a ledge cluttered with old newspapers sat. New sign. New logo. New mosaic tile on the entrance stoop. New enlarged black and white family photos on the walls. New streamlined display. New table runners… and I’ve only just got started!
All this was done by DECA volunteers as the reward for winning the “DECA Gems” competition.
I haven’t even told you about the stunning website yet – which didn’t exist before, in any form. It was done by a local professional, after a local food stylist had gussied up the food, a prop stylist had arrived with all the right plates and rustic cutting boards and a local professional photographer had shot the offerings ….
Such talent we have in this neighbourhood. Such generosity too. All the labour was done for free.
A quick reminder about the DECA Gems competition last May, when neighbours nominated more than 400 local “hidden gems.” We whittled them down to four finalists, and took our esteemed judges on a tour.
They picked Gerrard Pizza, a family restaurant run by three generations of Grecos since 1966. The food — there are 64 pizzas to choose from on the menu! — was outstanding. It was just the space that needed some sprucing.
Then a whole new team took over, led by Angela Matich, who met me there for pizza a couple of weeks ago to talk about it.
I had expected her to lead a modest makeover – some staging and decluttering, a painting party, a new website. All that happened, and was wonderful.
But Angela, as usual, had more ambitious plans.
Angela is one of those manic multitaskers who has done 4 loads of laundry, babysat the neighbour’s kids, walked the dog and completed a 10-page proposal, colour printed and bound, all by 6 am. She’s also a professional brand designer and manager. She gets paid to do this stuff. She’s done it for free for DECA makeovers for 7 years now. This job, however, was her crowning jewel, and “by far the biggest,” she said, between bites of pizza.
“We had such a big team on this. We kept adding people as we went. People were unbelievable. I’d just tell them the story, and they’d ask, ‘How can we help?’”
Local designer Jon Isaac made a new restaurant logo and sign, which embodied the restaurant’s new brand – family history and pizza.
Local web developer Kim Dolan designed the restaurant’s first website, using photos taken by LCBO and House And Home photographer Donna Griffith, after local food stylist Clare Jones had done her magic. (Lynda Felton provided all the beautiful dishes and table clothes for the shoot. She is a prop stylist, a job that I’ve only just learned about. It is a stager for photo shoots — I think.)
When Angela realized needed bench lowered, called on neighbor Stuart Fraser, a carpenter. He like everyone else, agreed to work for free.
“I suck everyone in,” she said.
When Angela approached Houman Nooreini, owner of Bella Lite, for a quote on the mason jar chandeliers she had in mind, she offered to create them in house, at “less than cost.” “Some things are not for profit,” he told me. “This is my neighborhood.”
The same thing happened when Angela phoned Mosaic Beach Studio.
“I like the whole idea of what you guys are doing — helping out small businesses,” owner Patricia Tiemann told me over the phone. “I have a small business. I know it’s really hard.” No matter that she had only just bought the studio to keep it from closing (the previous owner was ill) in the fall, and hardly has time to do paid commissions between the classes and workshops and her other job, as a project manager at a software company.
When you walk over the mosaic welcome mat she designed and created, think of this: It took her 50 hours. She cut every single piece of glass by hand.
(You can see her awesome photos of the process here.)
Tiemann, like everyone else involved in this project (and there are so many I have not told you about), deserves a swimming pool of gratitude, good karma and new paying business for their kindness. The whole makeover, in fact, feels to me like a giant community group hug.
It’s still not finished – there are a few finishing touches to come, including a giant sign on one wall listing all 64 pizzas and new facing for the bar…
But, it’s just about finished. And already, it’s having an effect. Business is up 30 per cent since the restaurant was nominated as a DECA Gem, Elenor Imbrogno told me, rushing by with another pizza. It was 6.45 on a Thursday night in the dead of summer, and eight tables were full.
“I was expecting a slow week. Oh My God,” she said.
What does her brother Vito Greco think of the makeover? “It’s awesome,” he says.
There will be a volunteer appreciation night later this month — if you were involved and haven’t heard about it, please email Gay for details at GStephenson@woodgreen.org — and an official reopening party in the fall some time.
But, don’t wait till then to admire the new look.
Drop in for a romantic night, and some pizza. My favourite choice so far is No. 56, the “Parmigiano,” which Angela ordered, of course. She’s eaten a lot of pizza there, while pouring over plans and ideas with Elenor, over the past couple months. Thank you Angela!
What does she think of the makeover? “It should last them another 50 years,” she says.