Tag Archives: Westport Pizzeria

Kevin O’Brien Returns To Westport Pizzeria

As promised this morning, Kevin O’Brien — the once-homeless Westport teenager who turned his life around — came back to town today.

One of his dreams was to visit Westport Pizzeria. As noted in an “06880” post earlier this month, Kevin once subsisted on 25-cent slices, not far from “Needle Park” where he spent his nights.

A couple of years ago the pizzeria moved around the corner, from Main Street to the Post Road. But the slices taste the same. And this afternoon, owner Mel Mioli was there to greet Kevin.

Kevin O'Brien (left) and Westport Pizzeria owner Mel Mioli. (Photo/Jack Whittle)

Kevin O’Brien (left) and Westport Pizzeria owner Mel Mioli. (Photo/Jack Whittle)

Kevin is no longer homeless. He’ll spend tonight at the home of an “06880” reader, who reached out to him after reading his story.

Westport has changed a great deal since 1970, when Kevin was a kid.

Some of those changes are great. Others — not so much.

But we’re still a place that draws folks back. And once they’re here, it’s nice to know we still draw them close in.

Kevin O’Brien Remembers Needle Park

I’m often surprised how far this “06880” blog reaches. Approximately 1/3 of our readers are former Westporters, living all around the globe. Most have fond memories of growing up here. Otherwise, they would not be interested in what happens here today.

Of course, everyone has a story. It’s important to remember that not all of them are wonderful and rosy.

The other day, I got an astonishing email. I don’t know Kevin O’Brien. Yet his tale — which he allowed me to share — is like nothing I’ve heard before.

But — at least as much as everyone else’s — it needs to be told.


I lived in Westport 45 years ago. After dropping out of Staples High School, my sister kicked me out of her house.

I was a hippie type. I slept in Needle Park [the former hangout — now a concrete plaza — on the northwest corner of Main Street and the Post Road, across from the old YMCA Bedford Building], on a bench in the snow.

A kind young policeman sometimes checked on me to make sure I hadn’t frozen to death. I had just turned 17.

"Needle Park," circa 1970.

“Needle Park,” circa 1970.

Across from Needle Park was a diner. Early in the morning, rolls were delivered. If I hadn’t eaten in a while, I’d pilfer one.

I sometimes panhandled for change at Needle Park. If I got 25 cents I’d get a huge slice at Westport Pizzeria. When I wasn’t lucky I used kitchen packets and hot water to make “tomato soup.”

I was 6-1, 140 pounds. I often went days without eating.

I volunteered at the telephone hotline crisis intervention center in the Y basement. Seasonally, I worked directing parking at the Westport Country Playhouse.

Kevin O'Brien celebrating Christmas in Westport, 1970.

Kevin O’Brien (center) celebrates Christmas in Westport, 1970.

We had a group of mainly homeless friends we called The Family. I miss friends like Susan Burke and her sister Sarah, and Helen “Cricket” Wooten, none of whom I’ve seen since then.

Two other friends were Dee Dee and Marie. They occasionally used heroin, which was everywhere in Westport. I would like to find either of them.

For a while we rented the upstairs and attic at 35 Post Road West, across the foot of Wright Street.

We sometimes hung out at Devil’s Den, and imagined the dragon/troll that lived under the bridge.

There were seemingly a lot of aimless, homeless kids back then. Celebs like Paul Newman and many more never stopped or tried to help any of them. I never understood that. They were all very charitable, just not in their own hometown where kids really needed help.

As tough as life could be, especially in winter, I loved Westport and have many fond memories. I guess it’s the difference between experiencing all that at age 17 and 18, rather than age 62.

I’m brokenhearted to see what happened to Needle Park (on Google Maps street view). I’m glad the pizzeria is still there, even at a different spot. On a visit in the ’80s I left notes written on paper plates for lost friends on the wall behind the counter, but never heard from anyone.

Kevin O'Brien, in the Navy.

Kevin O’Brien, in the Navy.

Eventually I left Westport and returned to Florida. A few years later I enlisted in the Navy. After 10 years of senior enlisted service I was given a meritorious commission as an officer.

I retired from the Navy in 1998, was elected to city council, and became vice president/director of operations for an international corporation in Georgia. I later retired for good, and moved to North Carolina.

I’m planning a visit to Westport in a couple of weeks, on the way back from a road trip through New England. Having developed some serious health issues, this is a bucket list trip for me. Westport is a chief stop. God bless Westport.

I guess I’m living proof that a homeless, aimless kid living on the street in Westport can turn out okay.

Another Little Kitchen

How many little kitchens — er, Little Kitchens — can Westport support?

At least 2.

There’s the pan-Asian place in Compo Shopping Center. Up sprouts Leera Little Thai Kitchen, which is taking over the “Make & Mingle” storefront across from the old post office.

(Photo and hat tip/JP Vellotti)

(Photo and hat tip/JP Vellotti)

That strip of Post Road East was once home to La Villa (before that, Mr. Sandwich), S&M (and later Joe’s) Pizza, Baskin-Robbins and Häagen-Dazs.

Now there’s Finalmente, Post 154, Blue Lemon and Westport Pizzeria. Plus Leera Little Thai Kitchen.

Very quietly, that section of town is becoming a foodie’s destination. Who knew?

Food, Glorious Food

Some restaurants close, and everyone notices. That’s what happened to Cru, late last month. The Dressing Room‘s demise had everyone talking; earlier, so did V’s.

Others quietly shut their doors. That’s the story with La Villa, the longtime Bay Street spot with a steady, seemingly loyal clientele.

I included them in a list of nearby restaurants — along with Post 154, Finalmente and Blue Lemon — in a story about Westport Pizzeria moving in around the corner. They were already closed. One reader commented that she “thought” it was gone; no one responded.

La Villa was one of the 1st Westport restaurants to have pop-up seating 2 years ago. It seemed kind of weird, dining on Bay Street. But they added 5 more tables, in front of the indoor space.

La Villa, in its sunnier days.

La Villa, in its sunnier days.

No restaurant is forever. The Clam Box, Manero’s, Allen’s — all met their end. And who knows what will happen to Mario’s, when the next phase of the Saugatuck Center development begins on Railroad Place?

So, “06880” readers: Let’s hear from you. Knowing the run will end eventually, what can a Westport restaurateur do to maximize his or her chances of success? What works in this town? What restaurants consistently do it right?

Play nice. Don’t dis. Use full names (yours, as well as restaurants’). And dig in!

All’s Well That Ends, Mel

For Westport Pizzeria, one door — the one at 107 Main Street — closed yesterday.

But another one opened today, at 143 Post Road East.

Here — without missing a beat — was the noontime scene:

Westport Pizzeria 1

Westport Pizzeria 3

Westport Pizzeria 2

It was Day 1, of the next 45 years.

The Last Slice

Tomorrow, this scene will be part of Westport history:

(Photo/Ted Stonbely)

(Photo/Ted Stonbely)

After 45 years, Westport Pizzeria is closing its Main Street doors. The narrow, never-changing restaurant, with its skinny tables, small stools, and special smell — all will be memories, after the last slice is served tonight.

But all is well. Tomorrow, “the pizzeria” opens at its new location: 143 Post Road East, across from the old post office.


Throwing A Parade For Westport Pizzeria?

S&M Pizza

Well, not exactly.

But this photo — sent by alert reader Mark Potts, showing a 1972-ish Memorial Day parade — illustrates several key takeaways from today:

Westport Pizzeria is moving to a great new location.

Westport loves a celebration.

Yes, there really was a restaurant called “S&M Pizza.”

Is this a great town or what?

Main Street Post-Pizzeria: And Then There Was One

As Mel Mioli and I chatted yesterday afternoon about the imminent relocation of Westport Pizzeria to 143 Post Road East, we remembered the many Main Street businesses that his narrow restaurant outlasted.

We didn’t chat about chain stores. Our trip down memory lane was all about the “real” stores that — once upon a time — defined downtown.

Back in the 1970s, a Mobil station sat opposite Westport Pizzeria. Today, it''s Vineyard Vines.

Back in the 1970s, a Mobil station sat opposite Westport Pizzeria. Today, it”s Vineyard Vines.

All of these places existed during the 45 years Westport Pizzeria has been a Main Street mainstay:

  • Achorn’s Pharmacy
  • Bill’s Smoke Shop
  • Charles Market
  • Chez Pierre
  • Charles of the Ritz Hair Salon
  • County Barber Shop
  • Dorain’s Drug Store
  • Klein’s Department Store
  • Liquor Locker
  • Mark’s Place
  • Remarkable Book Shop
  • Sally’s Place
  • Selective  Eye
  • Sloane’s Furniture
  • Soup’s On
  • Sport Mart
  • Swezey’s Jewelers
  • Westport Food Center
  • Welch’s Hardware

And that’s just off the top of our heads.

Mel and I came up with the name of just one Main Street non-chain business that was there in 1968, and still remains. In fact, it started out a few doors down, a couple of decades before Mel and Joe Mioli opened their pizzeria.

Congratulations, Oscar’s! You’re the last of a great bunch left on Main Street.

Oscar's Delicatessen (Photo/Videler Photography)

Oscar’s Delicatessen (Photo/Videler Photography)

Westport Pizzeria: Big Changes In Store

The bad news: After 45 years, Westport Pizzeria is closing its Main Street doors.

The good news: The day after it happens — later this month — the legendary, much-loved restaurant will re-open around the corner.

The new location — 143 Post Road East — was most recently the site of EATalia. It’s got great Italian bones: Before that, it was Joe’s Pizza. Even earlier, it was the bizarrely named S&M Pizza.

Westport Pizzeria owner Mel Mioli. His shirt says, "Serving generations with kindness and love since 1968!"

Westport Pizzeria owner Mel Mioli. His shirt says, “Serving generations with kindness and love since 1968!”

Owner Mel Mioli says his landlord — Malkin Property — sent him a non-renewal notice around January 1. Earlier, Mel says, Malkin offered him a 5-year lease if Kate Spade — 2 doors down — did not rent the entire building. But that didn’t happen, Mel says. Then the landlord stopped answering letters, emails and phone calls.

Now Mel is out. So is Kate Spade. And — in between them — Francois DuPont Jewelers.

At first, Mel says, he was sad. After nearly half a century on Main Street, the pizzeria he and his brother Joe founded has become a Westport institution. Customers became  friends — and he’s watched their children, and now grandchildren, grow up.

But a couple of years ago, Mel bought the 143 Post Road East property — just in case something like this happened.

Now, that’s a hot location. Just a few steps away are a host of restaurants: Post 154. Finalmente. La Villa. Blue Lemon.

A familiar scene, for 45 years. The backs of the shirts say "A true slice of Westport."

A familiar scene, for 45 years. The backs of the shirts say “A true slice of Westport.”

Westport Pizzeria’s new space is a lot larger than the beloved — but very narrow — Main Street site. Mel is renovating the Post Road property, making it bright and welcoming.

He’ll add a few dishes to the menu. Plus — grazie! — beer and wine.

Mel’s initial sadness has turned to excitement.

“I’m very, very happy,” he says. “We’ll take care of old customers better than before, and I know we’ll make new ones.”

The other day, he walked past his new Westport Pizzeria. The sidewalk was packed with pedestrians. “I can’t wait to open,” Mel says.

So will he stay another 45 years on Post Road East?

“At least!” Mel promises.

At the end of the month, this will be just another Main Street memory.

At the end of the month, this will be just another Main Street memory.

Westport Pizzeria: 1968 All Over Again

In October 1968, Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey were battling it out for the presidency. Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave glove-and-fist black power salutes on the medal stand at the Mexico City Olympics. “Hey Jude” sat atop the record charts.

And on October 12, 1968 — its opening day of business — Westport Pizzeria sold a slice for 25 cents.

In October 2013, we all know what happened after Nixon became president. We’ve seen how far our country’s race relations have progressed — and how much further we have to go. “Hey Jude” is still a great song.

2013 -- or 1968?

2013 — or 1968?

It also costs quite a bit more than a quarter to buy a slice. But — in a downtown that has changed so much — Westport Pizzeria still looks just as it did 4 1/2 decades ago.

This Saturday (October 12) the pizza place celebrates its 45th anniversary with a special deal: From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., they’ll sell slices for 25 cents. Sodas are a quarter too. (At the counter only.)

In 1968, Westport Pizzeria was the only game in town. Now there’s competition everywhere, from thick-crust Planet to gourmet Tarry Lodge.

But the Mioli family — the founders and still the only owners of Westport Pizzeria — must be doing something right. A restaurant doesn’t last 45 years here on luck alone.

Some don’t even last 45 days.