Nonna Picci: Pizza unlike any other

Tejeda tosses a pizza dough up in the air as it’s getting prepared. Although he wasn’t passionate about pizza before, he quickly became passionate about pizza’s and enjoys cooking them.

Jozsef Papp

It was during his time working at a Mexican restaurant in Augusta that Jordan Tejeda finally realized what he wanted to do in the food industry. He had been working as a server for many years before deciding to take the next step, owning his own restaurant.

“I worked with some people there that had been working there for 10 years and I would ask them ‘There is nothing wrong with serving, but don’t you want to be a manager or eventually own your own place?’,” Tejeda said. “They were completely content with just serving, which that is totally fine. I just could never be content with that, so I just worked so long in restaurants, I decided, ‘well I know so much about it, I worked in several different styles and types of restaurants, I’m going to make this my career.”

His dream of owning a restaurant became true on August 2017 when Nonna Picci Southern Woodfire Pizza officially opened in Statesboro. Although Tejeda, chef and owner at Nonna Picci, wasn’t convinced about pizza when the business first was proposed to him considering he had a background in fine dining, he quickly developed a love and appreciation for pizza.

“At first, I was a little off put by pizza. I mean, who doesn’t love pizza? But coming from a background of fine dining I wanted something a little bit more spectacular,” Tejeda said. “The more I started studying and working with dough, I realized that the crust of pizza is really just a vessel for any opportunity. If you want Asian cuisine, you can make asian pizza. It’s just like a plate. I look at pizza crust as a plate.”

Different type of pizza

Although Tejeda recognizes there are already a lot of pizza places in Statesboro that people enjoying eating at, he believes the pizza at Nonna Picci is different and unique.

Cooked under specific temperatures in a woodfire oven that has a rotating stone inside, something uncommon in the business according to Tejeda, makes the pizza experience at Nonna Picci unique. Tejeda understands that Chicago, New York and San Franscisco are considered the “pizza capitals of the country,” but feels his pizza can compete with any of them because of the water used at Nonna Picci.

“The reason why those pizza places are so good in Chicago and New York is because their water is so great. We import our water from a natural spring just outside of Washington D.C., so there is no difference,” Tejeda said. “We have had several people from Chicago and, specially, New York come in and say they can’t tell the difference between the best places in New York and here, which is very lifting of our spirits because that is everything we have worked for.”

The decision to cook using woodfire was made early in the process once Tejeda was on board on the project. The rotating stone is just a bonus that makes the cooking easier and more precise for customers to enjoy. A pizza is cooked and ready to be served in two minutes because of the rotating stone and the 650 to 700 degree temperature that the pizza is cooked, according to Tejeda.

Choosing a location

They choose Statesboro once they came across a location at 807 S. Main Street, which they considered “a unicorn property.” The location used to be a Nissan car dealership, the showroom of the dealership became the restaurant and the warehouse behind the showroom they hope to make into a full-scale bar in the next year or so.

For Jeffrey Humes, manager at Nonna Picci, another factor that contributed to the location of the restaurant is it’s closeness to student housing and the university.

“We found this location over a year ago, probably a year and a half ago. We were attracted to it obviously because of the university and also because of the student housing that surrounds the property,” Humes said.

The ability to expand the restaurant into a bar has JJ Mosley-King, general manager at Nonna Picci, excited. She feels it will be a place for students and the Statesboro community to spend their time, specially during football season.

Although the location is not considered part of the Blue Mile, a project to reveilles downtown Statesboro, Tejeda is happy with the location and the space available with the property they currently have.

Loyal customers

Creating a loyal clientele that comes into Nonna Picci often has been one of Tejeda’s biggest surprises.

“My biggest surprise, which is an amazing surprise,[is] our percentage of repeat customers,” Tejeda said. “We have so many people that come here more than three or four times a week and, to me, that is the most surprising thing.”

Michael Braz, a GS emeritus professor of music, is one of those customers who comes in five to six times a week to enjoy his mushroom pizza. Braz decided to come in to Nonna Picci the first time because “it was on the way home,” and hasn’t regretted ever since. Braz feels it’s important to support local businesses like Nonna Picci.

“Basically, they add so much to the community. We have the national chains already. There is a whole program that urges people to spend like $50 a month supporting local merchants and things like [Nonna Picci] and I try to do more than that,” Braz said “It’s a great way of knowing the people who are building, who are kind of contributing to the community too.”

For Tejeda, the biggest reward he can get it’s being able to see the customers enjoying the pizza or food he cooks in his kitchen. The ability to do that was one of the primary reasons why he asked the kitchen to be completely open so he could see customers enjoying the pizza and they could see it being prepared.

“I designed the kitchen, all of the decisions and I was like, I want an open kitchen. I want people to see the process of this whole thing that we are doing,” Tejeda said. “I want them to feel it’s their kitchen and they are cooking the pizza with us, I love that. I love to see the customer eat. Watching a customer shaking their head yes as they eat a slice of pizza, it’s like the most heartwarming thing I can experience.”

Looking ahead

The restaurant has only been open for a month with some success, but once the Statesboro location is “up and running 100 percent,” Tejeda hopes to expand and move to the next restaurant, hopefully in Savannah.

For anyone who hasn’t had a chance to go to Nonna Picci, Braz and Tejeda encourage potential customers to come out and try a unique style of pizza.