Alumni apply business school experience to pizzeria operation

Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, a family-owned restaurant originating in New York, has grown nationwide with 29 restaurants in the U.S. and seven in Arizona, thanks in part to the business expertise of ASU alumni Joseph Ciolli and Eric Greenwald.

Patsy Grimaldi, a friend of Ciolli's father, started the original pizzeria under the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn, N.Y.

When Grimaldi decided to retire in 1998, Ciolli’s father bought the restaurant and naming rights.

During this time, Ciolli had moved from New York to Arizona to attend the W. P. Carey School of Business, where he took classes such as logistics management. He said these courses helped with running the pizzeria.

Ciolli said the breakout classes he took his junior and senior years helped him apply skills he learned to real-world situations.

“The overall experience at ASU did a lot for my business life,” Ciolli said. “The networking opportunities were great."

Ciolli met Greenwald, his best friend, at ASU while both were in the same fraternity.

Greenwald, who was also a business major, said entrepreneurship, economics courses at ASU and the mentorship of professors prepared him for running a business.

“We had always talked about starting a restaurant or bar,” Greenwald said.

Ciolli moved back to Brooklyn after graduating to help run the pizzeria. He asked Greenwald to come out to New York to see the restaurant, and Greenwald decided to relocate and work at the restaurant.

“I worked the line and the front door at the original location,” Greenwald said.

After deciding to go into business together, the two friends expanded the restaurant chain to Arizona, opening their first restaurant in Old Town Scottsdale in 2003.

Each Grimaldi’s restaurant uses a hand-built coal fired oven that heats up to 1,200 degrees, cooking a pizza in minutes.

“That’s really the show at Grimaldi’s: the coal-fired oven,” Greenwald said. “We don’t use a gas or wood oven here.”

The restaurant began using a water pump system that replicates New York tap water after Ciolli discovered that the pizza dough was not turning out the same as it did in New York.

“I didn’t think that water would be a big deal,” Ciolli said. “But the pizza crust didn’t taste the same.”

On a trip back from New York, Ciolli brought back samples of New York tap water to test and found that the pizza he made turned out exactly the same as the original recipe.

Ciolli then hired a chemist to analyze the tap water in Arizona and a company to break the molecular structure of the water in order to replicate the New York tap water. He then installed a unique water pump system in every restaurant to mirror New York tap water.

Greenwald said Grimaldi’s offers a unique ambiance by having more table seating and by using fresh ingredients in their food.

“We make our own mozzarella and pizza dough,” Greenwald said. “We like to exceed customer expectations here.”

Cory Lattuca is the chef at Grimaldi’s and oversees the operations of all 29 locations. Lattuca said simplicity is the key to the pizzeria’s success.

“Our main focus is making quality pizza,” he said. “The pizza recipe is the same original recipe from the first Grimaldi’s Pizzeria.”

Ciolli and Greenwald are planning to open six more Grimaldi’s restaurants in the U.S., with two locations opening up in Denver and California later this year.


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