SAFETY HARBOR — Greg Seymour is no stranger to the concept of pivoting.
When the pandemic forced the statewide shutdown of all restaurants, the proprietor of Safety Harbor’s popular Pizzeria Gregario changed how he operated, first switching to a downsized takeout model where he sold par-cooked pies to a collection of regulars via email. Since March 2020, he has constantly retooled.
Some of it worked, some of it didn’t. But like so many other restaurant owners grappling with how to sustain their businesses at the time, staying creative was the key to staying afloat. Now, roughly a year and a half after first shutting his dining room, Seymour’s restaurant is open for takeout and outside dining, with limited hours a few nights a week.
Seymour is one of the very few Tampa Bay restaurant owners who has remained closed for dine-in business this long. One major factor helped: Seymour owns the bright yellow house where he runs his restaurant and doesn’t have a mortgage.
“Otherwise I would have been like everybody else, fighting tooth and nail,” Seymour said. “I can get real small real fast and be okay.”
But staying really small has its limits, too. Finding employees to help with his changing business models has been tough. For a good chunk of the pandemic, Seymour ran the business solo.
Seymour sources locally and regionally from a number of small farms and purveyors, so his restaurant hasn’t been affected by supply chain shortages the way others have. But other items for the business — in particular, pizza boxes — have been hard to come by.
While small can be good, at the end of the day the numbers have to justify running the business.
In addition to that downsized takeout model shortly after the pandemic began, Seymour expanded his bread baking services and started selling breads made with house-milled ancient and heritage grains including einkorn, spelt and rye. For a while, things flowed smoothly. On busier days, he averaged roughly 50 to 100 pies and another 50 to 100 loaves of bread.
“I got to know some of the people a little bit better, so that was nice,” Seymour said. “That human connection — I liked that.”
But when restaurants reopened and people started going out to eat again, business plummeted.
So Seymour changed it up again. This time, he partnered with another local business, selling pies out of nearby Sips Wine Bar a few days per week. Guests could order one of seven pizzas from their server at Sips and someone from the restaurant would run the pies over.
Dig in to Tampa Bay’s food and drink scenes
Subscribe to our free Taste newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“The idea was to drive the business that wanted to dine under the roof here to go dine under the roof there,” he said.
The partnership worked for a little while, but the bar was only selling about 30 to 35 pizzas per night, and that didn’t bring in enough money to pursue it long-term.
“I gave it a fiscal quarter, and the sales were abysmal,” Seymour said.
Back to the drawing board.
Seymour tossed around the idea of partnering with other businesses, possibly selling pizza from a trailer in the parking lot of a local brewery or two. He thought about closing down and moving his pizza oven into another restaurant. Neither of those plans came to fruition (although, Seymour said, they still could).
Finally, on Oct. 8, Seymour reopened with his current model: Takeout only, with the option of dining on the outdoor patio.
In many ways, it feels like business as usual at the restaurant. Guests still order at the counter from a chalkboard menu, and a small selection of beer, wine and soft drinks are served.
The menu now is an abbreviated version, but still includes a selection of nine pies, all featuring that perfectly crispy, chewy crust made with stone-milled flour the spot is known for. There aren’t any sides or salads offered right now, but there is garlic schmoo ($3) — a delicious garlic, olive oil and lemon combo that’s a must for crust-dunking. Cash or check is the preferred method of payment, though credit cards are accepted with a $3 surcharge.
Pies include a classic Margherita ($15) topped with mozzarella and fresh basil; the Bestia ($18), featuring mozzarella, basil, ‘nduja (a spreadable Italian pork sausage) and arugula; a spicy Puttanesca ($18) topped with olives, capers, garlic, chiles, tomato sauce, mozzarella and bottarga; and a pizza topped with a roasted mushroom medley ($18) with Fontina and Gorgonzola cheeses, pickled onions and arugula. There’s also a daily vegan option ($18) which features a cheese-less pie topped with tomato sauce, a selection of fresh vegetables and olive oil.
There is still no indoor dining, and Seymour said he’s not sure whether that’s ever coming back. Finding staff to work the limited shifts has been tough.
While grabbing a spot in one of the 18 seats on the patio outside is a lovely way to spend an evening, it’s a limited and seasonal model, and one that doesn’t hold up well to the elements (sweltering summer nights and surprise thunderstorms can put a damper on things).
Seymour is still throwing around ideas for what might come next. He’s thought about making the business seasonal, tossing pies during Florida’s winter months and heading to Maine for the summers, but nothing has been decided yet.
For now, he’s just glad to be back.
Pizzeria Gregario is currently open for takeout with dining options on the patio Thursday through Saturday from 5:30 to 9 p.m., or until the dough runs out. 400 2nd St. N, Safety Harbor. pizzeriagregario.com