By Jamie Meagher
You’ve probably noticed, as have we, that there is no shortage of pizza restaurants on the Space Coast. Just on your daily commute you could most likely count several big name chains, a couple of New York style independents and maybe even a Chicago style joint. So in a sea of competition of big budget and regionally focused competitors, what does it take to make a local owner operated pizza place successful for more than 28 years? We sat down with Melbourne Beach native Chris Conneen to find out what makes his creation, Pizza Gallery & Grill successful and what sets it apart from the competition.
After a stint with one of those big name brands, with inspiration from his family and faith, Chris decided that he wanted to offer Brevard something that they didn’t know they wanted. Much like a great piece of art is subjective, so is the perfect pizza. Not everyone is satisfied with the minimalism of the standard pepperoni and mushroom; some palates crave a more complex composition. While many of the big brands have caught up with this idea 28 years later, it was Pizza Gallery & Grill that offered Brevard its first taste of gourmet pizza.
That first menu served at the 1900 building in downtown Melbourne featured some favorites that are still on the menu today such as the “Botticelli” Hawaiian teriyaki sauce pizza or the “Alvar” Mediterranean with fresh veggies and an olive oil glaze. Not realizing it all those years ago that his idea might grow to encompass “gourmet pizza and so much more” and eventually add “& Grill” to the name. Conneen told us, “We sincerely considered changing our name, but each time it was like we would be squandering the name everyone already knew. So I finally just said, ‘Let’s embrace it, let’s tell people we are the best gourmet pizza, and oh yeah, if you want an amazing entrée we’ve got those, too.’”
That decision to embrace what started it all is evident in the latest additions to their innovative pizza menu, named signature artists. Examples are the “Banksy” Spicy Mac & Cheese, with macaroni and cheese as the sauce, topped with crispy bacon, jalapeño peppers and finished with a buttery panko bread crumb topping or the “Renoir” Chicken Bruschetta with an olive oil glaze, grilled chicken, spicy pepper and olive tapenade, all finished with feta, mozzarella and a balsamic reduction.A lot has changed in Brevard since Pizza Gallery first opened their doors in 1989. The competition along with the population has continued to grow, as has Conneen’s desire to offer our community a creative chef driven gourmet pizza.
Why Pizza Gallery?
Chris Conneen talks about when they added “& Grill” to their name, but we skipped over, why “Gallery?”
“I grew up surrounded by art. My mom is a National Watercolor Society artist, and I spent many weekends at sidewalk art shows in Florida and the Southeast. My mom had a great partner in my dad, who owned a gallery and marketed her artwork. He took her from the $50 painting at the sidewalk art show, to the $15,000 commissioned work.”
While Conneen’s father initially helped manage the art, in 1999 his impending move to North Carolina and retirement presented a challenge to the gallery aspect of his concept. In an effort to ensure a fresh and rotating selection of art and allow him to focus on growing the restaurant, he approached local artist and designer Jamie Meagher with an offer to act as curator. The addition of Meagher and expansion to a larger space has led to not only an increase in art sales but ever growing pool of artists from not only Brevard but all over central Florida. Having a formal curator helps keeping Pizza Gallery & Grill’s art collection as eclectic and innovative as their gourmet pizza menu.