Colony Grill: A Stamford Gem Heads South


Amelia Stone

Colony Grill has recently announced the opening of two new locations in Florida.

Amelia Stone, Reporter

In its conception, Colony Grill never meant to serve pizza. This classic Connecticut pizza joint was originally a post-Prohibition tavern started in Stamford’s heavily Irish neighborhood known as the “colony” over 80 years ago. At that time, Colony Grill was what you would think of as a traditional Irish grill, serving up sandwiches and drinks. So how did this Stamford food-scene staple become the nationally ranked pizzeria it is today?

Well, we’d have to go back to 1920s Stamford. During the Great Depression, Colony employed several Eastern European and Italian cooks who wanted to bring the taste of their homelands to Connecticut. They would proudly cook up thin crust pizzas for customers, but they faced one challenge: how could they get a pizza to comfortably fit onto the narrow bars Colony Grill had? The answer was to shrink the size of the pizzas to the now-classic 12-inch pie. In order to hold both your pizza and drink, sauce and cheese had to be decreased to avoid a mess, hence the creation of the bar pizza we know and love. 

By the 1980s, these pizzas had become so popular that Colony’s owners knew they had to make a change. They got rid of any item other than pizza on the menu as it was their star in the making. To this day, the menu remains relatively the same except for the few additional topping choices. Their business model was perfect until new competition arose in the summer of 2011. Two former Colony employees opened their own pizza restaurant: Riko’s. 

With remarkably similar pizza, including the once unique Hot Oil Pie, Colony Grill finally had to fight for Stamford. At the beginning of this rivalry, Riko’s had a leg up in four categories: more toppings, salads and sandwiches in addition to pizzas, delivery, and the acceptance of credit cards. But soon after Riko’s opened, Colony made some changes. While Colony still only offers pizza, they have expanded their toppings options, accept credit cards and offer limited delivery. While at first glance, it may seem that these establishments are relatively identical, many long-time Stamford residents will still tell you that their allegiance lies with Colony. 

I recently went to Colony for a classic Hot Oil and Sausage Pie, a Stamford staple, and spoke to several customers to get their thoughts on the restaurant and its competitors. 

When asked about what makes Colony Grill special and unique, customers noted its “history” and that it is a “Stamford landmark”. When asked if they are partial to Colony, customers defended this local favorite saying they would always pick Colony over its competitors. Not only did these loyal pizza eaters declare their love, but they made sure to order a Sausage and Hot Oil Pie. 

Not only are these classic pies delicious, but Colony’s atmosphere is incredible. The walls tell a story from the jerseys and photographs to its Wall of Heroes and photos of customers from decades ago. Its uniqueness and character is exactly what makes it the perfect business for expansion. Today, Colony Grill has seven locations in Connecticut, New York, and one in Virginia. Within the next year, two more locations are set to open in St. Petersburg, Fla. and Tampa, Fla. 

Why is Florida the place that Colony wants to expand? For one, partial owner Paul Coniglio lives in Tampa Bay which will allow him to frequently monitor these two new locations. Additionally, the demographics of the St. Petersburg area is similar to that of Fairfield County. The culture is fresh, vibrant, and pizza-loving, making for an ideal target market. Lastly, many snowbirds from the tri-state area move to homes in Florida for part of the year to escape the Northeastern weather and bask in the Florida sun. In 2018, more than 80,000 Florida residents came from New York and Connecticut, and the numbers increase annually. So if Colony Grill fanatics are truly as dedicated as they make themselves out to be, these two new locations will surely be teeming with hungry bar pizza regulars.