Five Questions for Tony Gemignani
Photo by Sarah Inloes
World Pizza Cup champion, cookbook author, two-time Food Network Pizza Champions Challenge gold medalist, and owner of 20 restaurants (including Walnut Creek’s Slice House), Tony Gemignani knows a thing or two about making a good pie. Here, the San Ramon resident dishes on his plans for the future.
Q: Last November you won your 13th pizza championship in Portugal, and you competed again in Italy this April. What’s next?
A: I am actually looking to grow my brand more, starting with the new [Golden State] Warriors arena, the Chase Center. I have five, all-new concepts going in there called Tony G’s … based on the Sicilian and grandma-style pizzas we do [in Walnut Creek]. It’s going to be awesome. And you may see a Slice House coming to Oakland. Maybe.
Q: You recently introduced a Detroit-style pizza at Slice House in Walnut Creek. How is it different than your other slices?
A: It’s definitely unique. It’s cooked in a blue steel–style pan and has brick cheese from Wisconsin that I blend with cheddar. You push [the cheese] to the edges [of the pan] so it chars a little bit and you have to literally chisel it out. … It’s the renaissance of pizza right now. We are the first ones to bring it to California, and Walnut Creek is where we chose to introduce it.
Q: What would you be if you weren’t a restaurateur?
A: Growing up, I thought I was going to be either a psychologist, in fashion, or a photographer. In high school, I was the photographer for the school newspaper. I still take photos. … I’m into cars too. I’ve been rebuilding a car for the last eight years and it’s almost done. I will show it at Goodguys in Pleasanton this summer.
Q: You’re always on the go. What do you do when you have a day off?
A: It’s hard for me to wind down, [but] I usually get Sunday off. Then I get to spend time with my son. I usually take him to the park. I also like coming to Walnut Creek; I go shopping there with my wife. That and Blackhawk Plaza. And I shop at Draeger’s Market all the time.
Q: Where do you go to eat pizza?
A: I test out a lot of places; I don’t go out to a specific pizzeria. But for delivery, I like to experiment. I may order from two different places to see how long it takes [to get the pizza], how the delivery driver acts, and how many Parmesan and red-pepper packets he gives compared to the other guy. Sometimes delivery guys will grab $7 worth of toppings, and that’s crazy.