Vito’s Pizza and Restaurant
The best dishes are more than a recipe, they also tell a story; in the case of Vito’s Pizza and Restaurant (Vito’s), it’s one rich in family history and tradition. The family-owned and –operated casual fine dining restaurant and Montreal-style pizza shoppe has been a New Brunswick landmark for more than 40 years.
Costa Georgoudis, co-founder of Vito’s, was the first in his family to come to Canada from Greece in the 1950s. “As the oldest brother, Costa established roots in Montreal and the rest of the family, brothers Peter, Nick and Demetri, began to move to the province shortly after,” recalls George Georgoudis, second-generation family member and partner of Vito’s.
The Eye for Pie
In the late 1960s, pizza was just starting to gain popularity in Montreal, but was still a relatively new concept in the Maritimes. “Traditionally, a Montreal-style pizza means the majority of the toppings are placed underneath the cheese,” reveals George. “A Montreal-style all dressed, or the works, pizza included pepperoni, mushrooms and green peppers, back before the huge range of toppings used today.”
After visiting a pizza place in Grand Falls, N.B., where people were lined up out the door to grab a slice, Costa knew he was onto a great idea. “The idea of starting a pizza shoppe really resonated with them,” shares George. “Costa had a good relationship with an employee from the Montreal-style pizza place so he knew it was something they had to do and that’s how it all started.”
Costa opened the first Vito’s in Moncton, N.B., in 1969. Finding immediate success, Costa summoned his brothers to come join him in the Maritimes. “The initial success of Vito’s was a major draw but also the fact that in New Brunswick you were allowed to tag two deer during hunting season,” notes George. “The brothers came to the province to hunt and they got to know the area.”
The Georgoudis brothers opened the second Vito’s in St. John, N.B., in 1972 at 69 Russell Street with a small menu, including pizza, lasagna and spaghetti; Vito’s was an instant hit with the locals. “We were the first pizza place in St. John with a liquor license and we quickly became a popular hangout for the younger crowd,” says George. “We made the classic Montreal-style pizza but we also used ground beef and bacon because those toppings are favoured here.”
With a heavy Greek influence on the pizza recipe, a Vito’s pizza pie became a hybrid of the family’s Greek and Italian heritage. “We make a rich meat sauce and even add some cinnamon into it, which is signature to Greek cooking,” adds George.
Today, the same recipes are used under the direct eye and care of the original brothers with the second generation of the Georgoudis family watching over, as well. The company now has two locations in St. John and one in Rothesay, N.B., with approximately 100 employees in total.
“We are full-service restaurants but we have also added two drive-thru windows for pickup orders,” details George. “Several years ago, we identified a need for this service, especially for mothers with children. At first we weren’t sure if it was a good way to invest money but people loved it and now 60 to 70 percent of our pickup orders come through these windows and we’re one of the only restaurants in the province doing it.”
From vegetarian pies loaded with tomatoes, mushrooms, green peppers and onions to all meat pizza featuring hamburger, pepperoni, sausage, salami and bacon, to Hawaiian-style and classic Greek pizza topped with olive oil, tomato, red onion, black olives, mozzarella and crumbled feta cheese, Vito’s has something for everyone to love.
In an effort to respond to the changing demands of its customers, George says the company is preparing a new, modernized menu with fresh takes on the classics. “We’re doing a lot of self-reflection and asking ourselves how we can create a menu that works for people’s healthier lifestyles,” he explains. “We’re reducing the amount of dairy in the new menu items because one, it’s healthier and two, the cost of dairy products in New Brunswick is sky high.”
Vito’s new menu will also include a range of gluten-free items. “We’re putting processes in place that eliminate cross-contamination by isolating preparation,” adds George. “The new menu will focus on healthier choices, especially appetizers, but with the same Italian-Greek flair we’re known for.”
In 2011, the family also started up George Cousins Catering. “There are three different Georges in the family, all named after my grandfather,” shares George, whose nickname is Big George. The catering company runs food and beverage service for the Q-Plex complex, a hockey arena and 300-seat corporate function facility. “We’ve done everything from fundraisers to weddings,” he adds.
With such success over the last 40 years, Vito’s emphasizes the importance of giving back to the community that’s made it all possible. “We sponsor local hockey teams,” reveals George. “As a family, we’ve been involved in professional hockey for many years. My uncles Nick and Peter are the only two to hold Allen and Calder Cup rings in Canada.”
The next step for Vito’s is possible expansion. “We’re holding on tight here in St. John and riding out the last of the economic storm so to speak, so before any further expansion, we want to be sure we can maintain all of the other locations,” adds George.
After 40 years in business, the story continues for Vito’s Pizza and Restaurant as the Georgoudis family builds more than just pizza pie, but a legacy for generations to come.