Later this year, the burgeoning 79th Street District, which includes local favorites such as Mina’s, Tap 79, and Cake Thai, will become home to an outpost of Paulie Gee’s, the Brooklyn pizzeria born from one man’s boredom with his life as an IT tech. Jason Weisberg is owner and operator of the first Miami location of the Brooklyn pizzeria, which will open later this year at NE 80th Street and Biscayne Boulevard. His first restaurant is as much a homecoming as an opening.
“I grew up here as a child visiting my grandparents in Bay Harbor. Since I was an infant, this was the dropping ground for my parents. The greatest part of my life has been in Miami,” said Weisberg, standing amids the complete overhaul of what was formerly China Palace.
Weisberg’s relationship with Paulie Giannone, who gave his name to the pizzeria, began when Weisberg's career on Wall Street became too much. "I told him I’d do everything but wash dishes. I told him I’d trade him my labor for the education,” he says, recalling how the partnership began. “I worked [at Paulie Gee’s] for a year and a half, unpaid, every day after my Wall Street job.”
Because of his colorful childhood that included long summers on the beach, opening a location in Miami was a no-brainer. To expand his brand, Giannone has taken to partnering with owner-operators in cities across the United States. Paulie Gee’s Miami opening this fall will mark the fourth location of the pizzeria. Other shops are planned for Columbus, Ohio, and Baltimore.
Working with local designer Alan Roth, Weisberg is staying true to as much of the original architecture of the China Palace as he can while updating and cleaning when necessary. Already, the two have uncovered architecturally stunning pillars, windows, and old ceiling beams that will make Paulie Gee’s unique. For the exterior, the two will work with local muralists to add a graffiti accent wall.
Gentrification may be taking place, but this certainly won't be spick-and-span construction. "In terms of design, we said, 'What do we have to work with here?,'" Roth says of the restaurant’s future look.
Having a pizza oven as the centerpiece of the restaurant will certainly make a statement. "The oven is going to be fully visible. Everyone will see the entire pizza process going on," Weisberg says. Just like the Brooklyn location, Paulie Gee's Miami will serve pizzas, salads, and a few additional dishes such as a cheese plate, making it as much a neighborhood joint as a pizza destination. The shop will feature 12 beers will be on tap, plus others in bottles, as well as a full wine list.
"I masqueraded as an IT professional for years. I had to do something for myself. I love to entertain — I did that any opportunity I could. But I never dreamed of opening a restaurant, because I thought it would be a nightmare,” says Giannone, excited about expansion after a calculated risk at 54 years old turned into wild success. Since 2007, the once-feared nightmare has been more of a dream for Giannone, and it promises to be the same for Weisberg.
Construction on the restaurant is underway, with a tentative opening date set for September. As plans for the Hilton complex on the corner of 79th Street continue to move ahead and more shiny CVS stores pop up in the area, what was once a neighborhood better known for drugs and crime is beginning to look a lot more appealing — and delicious.