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.

38 responses to “Westport Pizzeria: Big Changes In Store

  1. Dont blame the landlord. Blame the Town of Westport. Sky high property taxes force landlords to seek how the highest rent possible. Westport doubled the rents of commercial landlord 5 or so years ago. What do they expect.

    • If you look at downtown Fairfield, you’ll see a much more diverse and vibrant mix of retail establishments. I doubt that tax rates are the main determinant. There are different landlords — especially the Klebans, who have done, I think, a lot more innovative developments than their Westport counterparts.

      • Fairfield’s downtown also just barely escapes being in a floodplain, where a lot of the stores in downtown Westport (especially the basements) are pretty much *in* the Saugatuck river. If the current cycle of the Atlantic
        Multidecadal Oscillation lasts as long as the last (quiet) one did, I wouldn’t be surprised if the persistent flooding had the biggest impact on who/what remains in the area.

    • BULL! The increases in property taxes in no way are as high as the increases the landlords are asking. And since when does the Town levy “rents” on commercial landlords, yet alone “double them 5 years ago”

      • I am a landlord on Main Street. I believe it was 8 years ago that my taxes doubled. That is not a lie. It happened all over Westport.

  2. bobbi essagof

    Bittersweet news. 24 years ago we ate our first slice of Westport pizza after our a trip from Manhattan to look for a new home. We were amazed at how delicious the pizza was, after all this wasn’t NYC pizza. Our kids grew up there with their slices cut into little squares and never too hot!
    I’m sure the new place will be great and I can’t wait to go there. Mostly for Mel’s great big smile that always greets you at Westport Pizzeria.
    Good luck and shame on that Landlord!

  3. Mel and his brother’s are part of the fabric of the town, one of the last original Main street family businesses. . We grew up with Pizza after school walking over from Bedford Elementary (now town hall). Some were fortunate to get part time jobs after school to see the warmth of this beautiful family, some of those friends are still working there today. Its a special place where everyone greets you using your first name as true friends.

    Looking around town over a dozen businesses are experiencing similar problems with national landlords forcing them out of locations they have been in for years because they want national tenants verse local businesses that give Westport it’s unique character. .. .

    it will be nice to enjoy a slice in the sunshine outside your new spot. .

    Good Luck.

  4. Now there will be no reason at all to go downtown.

  5. Richard Lawrence Stein

    I sat at that counter now over forty years ago as a five year old, having a slice and a coke with my dad…. Fast forward forty years and I got to share the same experience with my five year old daughter… Friendly counter people as usual… Not the same ones of course… But joe and Mel were the same… And I got to have one of those experiences that will soon end… Kind of like the old Yankee stadium vs the New..

  6. Congrats Westport Pizza for having the foresight to get your own property. Too bad for Main Street! In their wisdom, the landlords have turned it into strip mall of chain stores. Absent the remaining 3 restaurants, which are no doubt struggling to make ends meet, there is no local flavor — and no utility for those needing to buy basic items.

    • Sharon Paulsen

      I concur with Blau – the “local flavor” has all but dissipated. I’m so glad Mioli has chosen to keep some of that “flavor” alive!
      I loved the variety and quirkiness of the Westport I grew up in. After graduating Ithaca, and my return to Westport in 1990, and beginning my 17 year stretch working with Mickey Herbst at Quick Copy on Main Street (and subsequently at the incarnate that was Quality Printing at The Mill on Richmondville), I witnessed a slow but noticeable change in that local flavor. I do recall Mel coming in to see us for menu and other printing needs back in the 90’s. What a super fellow he is! Of course, I experienced that same comraderie during my Staples and Bedford years from Mioli and staff, while grabbing a slice and a coke after school.
      Later, my career took me to Ryan Partnership in the Wilton office, so my traverses into Westport became much less frequent (those 10+ hour days in the marketing biz made “day trips” to my home town of Westport, even for quick errands, seem indulgent). And much has changed even more so during those years of my absence. Fairfield and later Trumbull have been my roosting nests during this time, and we all know what the Northbound commutes can be like.
      Anyway, I digress (sorry folks, just wired up from Super Bowl energy), but wanted to share sentiments and gratitude with regards to Westport Pizza and their choice to stay in Westport. Keep on making unmatched and fabulous pizza and exceptional service! Goodness knows we all need it these days!!

  7. I really don’t know how these landlords “live with themselves”. When is enough ever enough? Good luck, Mel.

    • My guess Mary is that the rent that a pizza place pays to its landlord is not enough so that the landlord can pay its property taxes to the town of Westport. Landlords do not have a choice. They are now partners with the Town of Westport.

      • Bill, I think the real issue is that so many of the properties are owned by REITS and/or other corporate entities who cater to the chain stores and don’t have a vision about this one local market, the way an innovative local developer might. Perhaps some of the new developments being planned now are different, but I suspect the new tenants will be the more of the national chains you can find in any mall, with the only differences being: it’s harder to park here than in a mall, and the stores close earlier.

      • The rent they wanted was $14,000 a month for that location

  8. Dan, did you say La Villa? The other day I searched on Bay Street and all around and couldn’t find it. I think it’s gone.

  9. Elisabeth Rose

    Congratulations to Mel for thinking ahead and buying the other property, so we can continue to enjoy his delicious pizza and be greeted with his warm smile. While I agree with Peter Blau’s comment that “the landlords have turned it [Main St.] into a strip mall of chain stores,” I’m very happy that we will still find Westport Pizzeria just around the corner, and with wine and beer!

    Tanti auguri! C’andiamo tutti!

  10. I would love to have one of those TShirts! At least they will be moving to a familiar place. I used to go to S & M Pizza once in awhile…They should fly Tony Dohanos in to paint his famous painting on the wall 🙂
    I can’t even begin to count how many slices of their pizza I have eaten…:-) After moving away and living all over the country, I have yet to find a slice of pizza as good as theirs!

  11. What a tragedy. The funky atmosphere of Westport Pizzeria was a huge part of its charm. It’s still the best pizza I’ve ever had, and I wish them luck in their new location—but this really will be the end of the last “slice” of the old downtown Westport so many of us grew up in during the ’60s and ’70s.

  12. Bart Shuldman

    Congrats Mel. Can’t wait for the new ‘digs’. And beer and wine. Fantastic. The whole downtown area is growing and expanding. And it is more vibrant then ever. You can walk the different areas and get a cup of JAVA, PINK sushi, Mel’s wonderful pizza and all the new stores. Urban Outfitters has been a real hit.

    Congrats Mel. Can’t wait tonsil and beer and have a slice.

  13. I agree with Jill Turner Odice’s comment. When I moved back here after 35 years in the Bay Area and other parts of the world, one of the first things I did was go to the Westport Pizzeria.The aroma coming out of the restaurant to the street is impossible to resist. I compared every slice I had elsewhere to WP and none of them measured up. Mel’s smile when you walk in is also impossible to resist. I hope they take the sign above the front door to the new place. It’s classic. I am so pleased that Mel is excited and moving forward.

  14. Westport Pizza will always be #1 in our hearts and stomachs! Smart thinking to buy the Post Road location when you realized you were being squeezed out by high rents. It’s a shame but I’m sure you will continue to do well!

  15. Thankyou Mel and Joe for staying with us Westporters, We still need all the nourishment you’ve provided over 40 years on Main St-warm smiles,authentic conversation-fresh food.

  16. Clement Kamoen

    The mioli’s have been a part of Westport for fifty years. I remember hitchhiking all over town to get to school, work and wherever I needed to go. It was them that picked me up a great deal of times. This was 1981-82. It is them, their pizza and their contribution to the community that makes them a success, not their location. I’ll see you around the corner.

  17. Judy Kelhoffer

    All of us at Patagonia are thrilled to have you!

  18. Barbara Wiederecht

    To the Mioli family-your friends and neighbors will order their pizza from you wherever you are! Our best!

  19. Karen Bulakites Gibbens

    I was there a few times when I was back in Westport seeing my late father, I loved thier pizza, But the 1st time I walked in there with my dad, It took me back to the 60’s when it was Bill’s Smoke Shop, I can still see my dad on Sunday Mornings sitting in the front window,
    I will make sure when we come back next Oct to go and get a slice from them,
    BTW My grandfather was Bill Bulakites.

  20. Don’t ever compete agonist someone’ ..,,,,,,,0

  21. First stop I make when I come back for a visit is for that famous pizza. I’m thrilled that they will still be there when I come back but in a different place. Down here in FL they always say their pizza is just like the tri-state area. That’s baloney folks. Nobody can make pizza like the Mioli family. Will see you in Aug. Can’t wait!

  22. Not only does Mel Mioli make great pizza and do awesome customer service, but when we lived next door to his family in Westport. The Mioli’s were great friends and neighbors. Mel, Carrie, Fransisco and Allasondro: we miss you very much,
    Lindsy,Jake,Alexi, laura and David Signet

  23. Hahahaha I love that “Bill Smith” starts off by telling everyone not to blame the landlords only to soon reveal he’s a landlord himself! As if that wasn’t predictable!

  24. Robin Scarella

    We have been eating Westport pizza for about 39 years. At home, at the beach and in between. Hardly a school event or other Mel did not send pizza too. U just had to ask and there it was. When my son comes back to Westport, always a stop at Westport Pizziera. And when we can’t get out, they come to us. Hooray, staying, hooray wine and beer.
    See u soon.
    Robin

  25. Wow… Westport Pizzeria was the last stand of shops left that I patronized in my childhood… Those days of being a 12 year old kid and spending a Saturday afternoon hanging out downtown and making sure to get back to the green in time for the last minny bus. Or, after I got my license, the hundreds of trips I made to pick up takeout.

    On a more recent visit to town, I took my wife to see what remained of my childhood downtown, and after a stop at Achorn’s (she wanted to see a pharmacist that everyone looked up to ala Seinfeld) we went for a couple of slices and I was amazed at how good the pizza still was, and how cozy and familiar it all seemed. My wife was also duly impressed!

    Mel and family, best of luck in the new location! I will definitely come in with the family the next time we are in town. Main Street just won’t be the same without you!

    -Tony

  26. When I was a kid in Southport , I used to ride my bike to Westport (circa early 70s) as downtown Fairfield was dull. In Westport, all the stores were locally owned, and were very cool. Now, your downtown is like a mall. I really hope that Westport Pizzeria thrives in its new spot.

  27. Westport Pizzeria opened two years before I graduated Staples and is woven into memories of my teen years. I remember many afternoons in that warm and fragrant little space, elbow to elbow with masses of other kids. A trip back to Westport always includes a stop there, still, and I only have to walk in the door and inhale to be sent back in time. On one return visit, I told Mel how often I’d come into the Pizzeria as a teen and he (very gallantly) said “I remember you.” Thank you Mel for being such a wonderful part of Westport’s past AND it’s future!

  28. Lois A Santariga

    Springtime & Summertime is mostly the time I remember saying to my Mom, “Mom, I’ll be “downtown !” (and she knew exactly what I meant and where I was going) even though we lived in Norwalk, on the Norwalk/Westport town line. The downtown Westport that I will always remember was when all the little stores (with their cool “Bohemian feeling”) were locally owned and had a unmistakable nostalgic flavor, now sadly, the downtown stores (and shopping there) is similar to visiting a mall. I will say, all my special times spent on Main Street, Westport and all the vivid and exciting, wonderful memories I have of being there, will forever live in my heart.. esp the late 1960’s and the entire 1970’s !

    • Lois A Santariga

      …… “Congratulations Westport Pizzeria” .. may your success live on in your new location! My downtown visits always included going in for a slice of your delicious pizza pie !