PROVIDENCE — Although the East Side’s newest pizza joint is modeled after its owners’ favorite pie places, it isn’t trying to replace your own childhood favorite — it just wants to be in conversation with it.
Pizza Marvin’s owners, chef Robert Andreozzi and bartender-extraordinaire Jesse Hedberg, opened the Fox Point restaurant almost a year ago. Both lifelong Rhode Islanders from a fine-dining background, they’ve brought a lot of high-end and personal touches to Pizza Marvin.
The seed for Pizza Marvin was planted a few years ago. Around 2017, Andreozzi and Hedberg met on a food project that didn’t work out. Andreozzi said he had been begging Hedberg to work with him on a restaurant ever since.
Though by then they had both become big names in the Rhode Island food scene, neither Andreozzi, 32, nor Hedberg, 41, had originally set out to become restaurateurs.
Andreozzi, who was raised and currently lives in Bristol, attended Roger Williams as a pre-law student but he really “studied lacrosse,” he joked. After realizing that law school wasn’t going to work out for him, Andreozzi headed out west for culinary school at Johnson & Wales University’s former campus in Colorado.
Like Andreozzi, Hedberg hadn’t always thought he would find a career in the restaurant industry. He originally went to the University of Vermont to become an art teacher. Hedberg left school before getting his degree and found a job bartending in Newport.
Starting a pizza joint wasn’t exactly what they had in mind when the two finally decided to go in on a project together. But a building went up for sale last year on the corner of Governor and Wickenden streets in Fox Point that had previously been outfitted as a pizza place. In the middle of a pandemic, pizza seemed like the perfect COVID-safe, takeout-friendly meal.
The pair looked at the space in June 2020, received the keys in mid-October, and “got right to work,” adding their own personal touches, Andreozzi said. They funded the project with their own money and with additional help from friends and family.
By the end of December, they were ready to go.
Figuring out a name was one of the hardest parts of the process before they settled on Pizza Marvin. Marvin is a sort of double portmanteau. It combines Andreozzi and Hedberg’s grandfathers’ names: Marco and Melvin, a nod back to family and the original source of their love of food, and “mar” for sea and “vin” for wine.
For Andreozzi and Hedberg, high quality and locally sourced ingredients are a priority. In addition to pizza, they offer homemade custard, fresh seafood, and to-go cocktails canned in-house.
“Jesse said he wanted people to feel like they were opening a present,” when customers brought their takeout home, Andreozzi said. Max Fisher Design created the retro look that graces Marvin cans, boxes, and walls from some “drunken doodles” Hedberg crafted.
They have curated playlists linked to their website (Hedberg loves music and rock ‘n’ roll is often bellowing outside from the restaurant’s speakers.) Customers can go home with their pizza, drinks, and music, and feel like they were in the pizza parlor, even when COVID prevented in-person dining.
Even though the Pizza Marvin experience has a fine-dining feel, the day-to-day of running the business isn’t always as glamorous.
Andreozzi and Hedberg have to wear multiple hats, and sometimes gloves, cleaning the bathroom or repairing things when they can. When something breaks, “Jesse’s down at Adler’s [Design Center & Hardware] getting parts. I fixed the sink the other day,” Andreozzi said. “My friend helped me,” he admitted.
“We were crushed,” in the first three months, Hedberg said. “Opening a restaurant is psychotic.”
Andreozzi remembered calling his girlfriend on the opening weekend, and telling her, “You need to come cut pizza, we’re 911.”
Andreozzi said they might have lost some customers in that first phase when they tried to operate with five workers. (Now, they have eight employees, not including himself and Hedberg.)
But nearly a year into business together, they have regulars who they love, like a couple who owns a pepper farm and calls Pizza Marvin’s “the best pie” they’d ever had.
They recognize they are lucky to have had success so far in a fickle industry that has had a particularly difficult two years because of COVID.
Last month, Tommy’s Pizza in Providence, “the place we cited as inspiration from the beginning,” Hedberg said, closed after 66 years. “I am happy to be here as Pizza Marvin and serving great quality pizza, who knows, maybe for 60 more years like Tommy’s did,” he said.
In a city like Providence, where patrons are loyal to their brands, “We know there are plenty of people in this town who will never come see us because they love their own pizza parlor,” Hedberg said.
Others might say, “this is not as good as ‘whatever,’” Andreozzi added, and that’s fine with them. “I welcome the conversation, that’s your home team.”
“Providence doesn’t get as much recognition for pizza as other cities, but we do have a rich pizza history here,” Hedberg said. “We are proud to be a part of that.”
Both Andreozzi and Hedberg believe there is a lot on the horizon, whether that means working with a distributor to sell their signature cocktails, opening more Pizza Marvins, or even starting other types of restaurants under the Marvin brand. For now, though, they want to shore up their position on the pizza scene and enjoy that work while doing it.
“How can you not be happy, as somebody who loves food, to be making pizza?” Hedberg said.
Colleen Cronin can be reached at email@example.com.