This story is part of Tri-Cities Best, a viewer-vote-driven section of News Channel 11’s community coverage. Hundreds of nominations and thousands of votes placed several local businesses within reach of the title of Best Pizza:
- Italian Pizza Pub
- Rocky’s Pizza
- Simm’s Pizzeria
Each nomination is a privilege, and each vote is an honor.
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Chances were slim that Greg’s Pizza ended up in Johnson City, Tennessee, but current owner Eddy Zayas-Bazan said the business was fated to arrive in Little Chicago.
“Greg Campanello was from Elkhart, Indiana and they had three pizzerias up there and they were very successful,” Zayas-Bazan said. “And there was this gentleman who was a golfing buddy… and he kept telling him, you need to put a pizzeria in Johnson City, Tennessee.”
Campanello approached Bill Darden Sr., who owned a venue downtown, with the opportunity to host Greg’s. Darden turned him down. Decades later, former Johnson City mayor Steve Darden told Zayas-Bazan that he was confident that decision was one of his father’s biggest mistakes.
“That’s actually how it started,” Zayas-Bazan said. “It started out as Volcano Pizza because they had three pizzerias that were called Volcano Pizza. When he came down here, he put Greg’s Volcano Pizza, which eventually just became Greg’s Pizza.”
Greg’s opened in Johnson City in 1963 and has operated continuously for 60 years. Not much has changed since its early days, just owners and some equipment.
“We wanted to keep that history alive,” Zayas-Bazan, the current owner and a Johnson City native, said. “We feel it’s a Johnson City tradition.”
Zayas-Bazan was actually considering a Chick-Fil-A franchise in the region before he purchased Greg’s, but he had a closer connection to the pizzeria.
“I truly was a customer of Greg’s and liked the product,” Zayas-Bazan said. “I thought this is something I can do and this is a legacy I’d like to continue forward.”
Greg’s pizza offerings are a departure from the typical slices you’ll find in the Tri-Cities, but are a good fit for Little Chicago. Zayas-Bazan said many of their unique aspects hail from the Windy City. Toppings go under the cheese, and the pizza is cut into strips.
“That’s a Chicago-style pizza, that’s the way they do it there,” Zayas-Bazan said about the business’s pizza construction. “Elkhart is about a hundred miles from Chicago, so that’s the way they did it there. That’s the way they learned it there.”
Simple, fresh ingredients are the name of the game at Greg’s as well.
“On Mondays, we’re making 80 quarts of spaghetti sauce,” Zayas-Bazan said. “Make that a couple times a week. So all these toppings and all the veggie toppings are cut here, they’re all fresh daily.”
As with any small business, team members make all the difference for Greg’s. Cindy, Eddy’s wife, plays a massive role in keeping the place afloat and on the right path.
“We have a tremendous crew,” Zayas-Bazan said. “We all work as a team.”
Zayas-Bazan said several employees have over a decade of experience at the business, and all of them share credit for Greg’s success.
“We all get the accolades if something goes right and we all take the blame if something goes wrong,” Zayas-Bazan said. “Because that’s the way a team does.”
Overall, Greg’s Pizza remains itself after 60 years in operation and has no plans to change anytime soon. From Little Chicago to the metropolis that gives Johnson City its nickname, Greg’s is an enduring tradition.