James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz is opening Genuine Pizza in the old Yebo space at Phipps Plaza this December. Based in Miami, Schwartz gained fame for his neighborhood restaurant, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in 2007, before opening Harry’s Pizzeria in 2012. This year, he rebranded Harry’s as Genuine Pizza and is bringing his 12-inch, thin-crust pies to Buckhead.
“We’re excited about Atlanta. It’s a logical extension for us because of geography,” Schwartz says. “It’s a chance to prove the viability of the concept outside of our comfort zone. The sophistication and sensibility of the dining scene in Atlanta has a lot in common with Miami and what we do.”
He plans to open 18 locations in the next three years, including two more in Atlanta. He’ll hire a local chef to lead the kitchen, but says he will pop in often to ensure his vision of chef-curated dishes and honest ingredients is being carried out.
Menu items include short rib pizza, kale pizza with caramelized onion, peach and stracciatella salad, and polenta fries. There’s also a pan-roasted skirt steak and roasted eggplant. There will be a small beer and wine list.
We spoke with Schwartz to learn more.
Why did you rebrand Harry’s Pizzeria?
Looking at it from a national perspective, we felt like Genuine Pizza was easier to get an idea of what we’re all about. Harry’s was named after my son and grandfather, so there’s great sentimental value, but Genuine speaks to our approach and our flagship restaurant.
How is Genuine different from Harry’s?
With the rebranding comes a redesign of the restaurants. It’ll be consistent with the new design: lighter, brighter and more airy, with more greenery to bring the outside in. It’ll look a lot different from Harry’s, which was more funky and eclectic. We’ve incorporated a dough room in new design at front entrance of restaurant.
The menu will be mostly the same. We spent last five years tweaking recipes and looking at feedback and getting the dough right. We’re proud of the menu. It focuses on pizza but also offers protein options, salads, snacks.
In Atlanta, we will have the opportunity to explore using more local products in the soup and the daily pizza, as well as the seasonal pie, which changes quarterly.
Tell us about the pizza.
It’s inspired by Neapolitan style, but we don’t consider ourselves Italian. Our flour is from King Arthur. The cheeses are mostly domestic. The dough is cold-fermented in a two-to-three-day process. A little whole wheat flour gives it earthiness. We add a little honey and a little beer. It’s chewy and crispy with a lot of flavor. The crust is relatively thin, but not a cracker and not Roman style. Our toppings define our style—braised short rib, slow-roasted pork, and rock shrimp.
There seems to be a rise in fast-casual pizza places. Why do you offer table service?
It’s a much more civilized experience. We want people to feel like they can escape the hustle and bustle for a minute. It’s about a 40-minute turn-around time.
How did winning a James Beard Award in 2010 change your outlook and impact your business?
It provided a tremendous amount of opportunity. It forced us to look at the company as a company and not just a bunch of mom-and-pop restaurants. If you had talked to me 10 years ago about a brand, I would’ve said it’s just the name of the restaurant. Branding and rebranding—that’s some grown-up stuff right there. Its forced us to grow-up quickly in terms of corporate hygiene and the way we do business.
The award was for Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, which isn’t scalable, but the pizzeria is like a mini version. We took one component of [Michael’s] that made it successful and keyed in on that.