How does one earn a degree in parks and recreation management from Ole Miss and end up running a pizzeria in Corinth?
The answer is simple, if you ask Joshua Bryant.
“Corinth needed a place where kids my age could go and grab something to eat and have a beer,” Bryant said matter-of-factly. “Pizza is my favorite food and I love spaghetti. One thing I knew when I graduated was that I wanted to be around people. I like making people happy. I never had plans to be in the restaurant business, but it’s just a good fit.”
When the 28-year-old moved back home to Corinth after graduating in 2003, he and his father slowly began renovating the almost 100-year-old building that now houses Pizza Grocery. The restaurant, which opened in May 2006, is adjacent to JB Outdoors, which is owned by Bryant’s parents, Jimbo and Margie.
“My dad is a contractor by trade,” Bryant said. “This place was a mess. It took about two-and-a-half years of solid renovation. We did anything from sandblasting old brick to pouring new concrete floors, all the while trying to preserve the history of the building.”
The building was built in the early 1900s and operated most recently as Alcorn Wholesale, he said. From 1934 to 1985, it warehoused dry groceries and produce. It was also used as a distributor for Pabst and Sterling beer. A lean-to shed that was added onto the warehouse to stockpile sheet metal during World War II was removed to make way for the restaurant.
Shades of New York
Naturally, Pizza Grocery specializes in pizza – specifically New York-style pizza.
“New York-style is categorized as thin, but we call it in between thin and hand-tossed,” Bryant said. “It’s definitely not thick. And New York-style pizza is cooked on a stone hearth in a brick oven. That means the pizza is actually cooked right on the surface – there’s no pan underneath. It gives it a nice crust on bottom.”
Bryant and his father actually went to New York to research pizza before the restaurant opened.
“We went to a pizza expo, where we saw equipment, tables and chairs,” he said. “And we ate pizza every day at famous New York pizza restaurants and small pizzerias.”
Bryant hired Chef Andy Lipford, who was schooled at Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona, to man the kitchen and the two came up with the menu, which changes seasonally.
In addition to pizza – which is the restaurant’s best-seller – the menu features salads, pasta, calzones, sandwiches and appetizers.
“Wings are a popular appetizer – that and our toasted ravioli,” Bryant said. “Those are No. 1 and No. 2. We’d definitely get some calls if those were off the menu.”
On the weekends, Lipford offers upscale specials each night.
“We do something different every Friday and Saturday night,” Lipford said. “That gives me an outlet to be a little creative and try different things. You know, give these Corinthians something a little different every once in a while.”
The specials are actually what bring Nancy and Russ Morrison of Corinth into the restaurant every week.
“My husband’s favorites are the specials,” Nancy Morrison said. “They are always cooked perfectly and presented beautifully. I like the calzones and my college daughter loves the spinach dip.”
A couple of weeks ago, Lipford’s weekend special was smoked duck breast on a blue corn pancake with a chipotle-apple butter, chow-chow and black-eyed pea fritters. Specials run between $20 and $23, although the regular menu is more moderately priced. A 12-inch pizza costs between $10.99 and $13.99 and a plate of spaghetti and meatballs is $8.99.
Bryant figures about 85 percent of the customers at Pizza Grocery are regulars and he’s happy to have them.
“We’re on our way to success,” he said. “Times are hard right now, but we’re getting more people in here every week. We have doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers, blue collar workers, farmers – people from all walks of life. I never thought it possible to have that mix. I’m more pleased with that than anything.”
Ginna Parsons/Daily Journal