A new owner means new possibilities at Grandpa’s Pizza
by Adam Garrett-Clark
Grandpa’s Brick Oven Pizza, the almost six-year-old Inwood pizzeria that quickly became a neighborhood institution on Broadway and Isham Street, is going through yet another growth spurt.
The pizzeria just off the corner of the northernmost entrance to the 207th Street A-train station recently overhauled its kitchen, installed new bricks around its signature oven, expanded its menu, beefed up its display case, slapped new paintings on the walls and even switched to a brighter hue for its employee’s uniforms.
When new owner Jack Han took over in February, he said he wanted to keep the things that customers loved while freshening the restaurant to his tastes.
“This is a seasonal business,” he said. “When temperatures go up, business goes up.”
In anticipation for the summer, the restaurant has seen a $40,000 face-lift, with about $10,000 more in renovations planned for the near future.
The new and expanded kitchen, decorated with surrounding brick walls in the rear of the dining area, is now equipped with a charcoal grill, allowing for a new section on the menu.
That means customers will now be able to order decidedly non-Italian dishes like baby back ribs and a variety of hamburgers. And staple Grandpa’s dishes like the grilled chicken hero are now prepared on real charcoal flames rather than an electric griddle. The difference in taste is incomparable, according to manager Angel Salazar.
The re-haul of the kitchen included a full conversion from electric to gas, meaning quicker cooking times, increased flavor and greater possibilities in the kitchen, Salazar said. Grandpa’s now offers more salads, including an avocado salad, new hero combinations, like chicken cordon bleu, and several new pasta dishes.
The pasta menu offers a choice of pasta and either a cream, pink or marinara sauce with dishes like a veal parmigiana or arraviata (kalamata olives, hot cherry peppers, fresh mushrooms, and caramelized garlic).
In addition to whole wheat pizza and garlic knots, customers can now find whole wheat strombolies in every variety and Salazar said based on customer inquiries, the restaurant eventually plans to offer whole wheat pasta.
While some of the changes were aesthetic – a new sign out front, bright orange uniforms and art by Han’s amateur painter friend, Louis Seo, and his daughter, Christine Han – many of the changes serve to make the restaurant more efficient.
A new broiler in the kitchen can turn out a baked ziti or hero with melted cheese in half the time it used to take in the old oven.
And the new bricks laid around the oven now prevent less heat from escaping, meaning pizza pies cook faster and employees slicing them up get less overheated.
The workers were miserable in last summer’s heat, Han said.
Owner Han said the restaurant will continue to evolve based on customer feedback and requests. Han also said he plans to offer discounted rates to his restaurant’ s specialty Italian fare on Mondays and Tuesdays when business is normally slower.
The tiny pizzeria has come a long way from the days when Salazar helped open the restaurant as a pizza chef in July of 2003. Back then the restaurant sold just three items, pizza, calzones and beef patties. Salazar said little by little, based on customer requests, the restaurant began to expand its menu one dish at a time.
Six years later there’s one sure thing that keeps people coming back – a piping hot slice of pizza – now they’ll just get it faster.
Upgrades to Grandpa’s brick oven mean faster food for the customers and a cooler work day for the employees.
The Manhattan Times is the bilingual newspaper of Washington Heights and Inwood.