George Kalivas Tells The Story if Windsor Pizza in His First Feature Length Documentary
Story by Matthew St. Amand
Photography by George Kalivas/LRG Super
Athens has the Parthenon. Paris has the Arc de Triomphe. Windsor has its pizza.
Unlike Athens and Paris, Windsor is all but unknown for its contribution to world culture. Windsor native, George Kalivas, seeks to change that with the documentary The Pizza City You’ve Never Heard Of, that he wrote, and was directed by his friend and colleague at Warner Music, Tristan Laughton.
“It all started when I was 18 years old,” George explains. “I was born and raised in Windsor, graduated from Herman high school, and moved to New York City for school. Within my first month there, I was introduced to all the famous pizzerias in New York, all the mom-and-pop places. And I couldn’t believe how much culture surrounded them. The pizzerias all had incredible stories, and they reminded me of what my dad had told me about Arcatta Pizzeria in Windsor, and what my grandfather said about the Volcano.”
The more George immersed himself in New York’s pizza culture, the more he realized Windsor’s pizza stood shoulder-to-shoulder with what New Yorkers considered their best.
“You should taste the pizza where I come from,” he told his friends. They didn’t believe Windsor’s pizza could be mentioned in the same breath as New York pizza. “If it’s so good,” they said, “why haven’t we heard about it?”
Fast forward nearly two decades: George works for Warner Music, marketing musicians. During the intervening years, he got married, started a family, and traveled.
“I’m a hip hop guy,” he says. “Aside from music, the only other conversation I’m having is about food. Traveling for work, with my wife, I’ve eaten in most of the pizza cities of the world: New Haven, Connecticut is a great place for pizza. I’ve been all over the east coast of the United States, the west coast, L.A., up and down Italy, and I just felt that Windsor
deserved to be part of the conversation of real pizza cities of the world.”
When the COVID-19 global pandemic hit, the music industry ground to a halt, along with most of the world.
“Tristan and I had time on our hands,” George says. “We used to hit up two or three live shows a week and went down to zero when the pandemic came. So, I pitched the idea of doing a documentary about Windsor pizza. I said: ‘Look, you’re going to think I’m insane when I tell you my hometown has some of the best pizza in the world.’ Tristan is from Toronto, raised in Scarborough, and never heard that Windsor was known for its pizza. We weren’t exactly filmmakers, but I figured we could do for Windsor pizza what we did for musicians.”
He continues: “I’m a marketing guy. I write and produce this stuff. My job is to come up with the ideas and reach out to people who have the tools to get the job done. When Tristan and I call ourselves filmmakers, we say it with smiles on our faces. But the fact is, we know how to make digital content.”
The duo moved rapidly from concept to strategy: the film would be a road-trip documentary, starting in Toronto, loosely based on George, following him home to Windsor, going around to the pizzerias where his family ordered pizzas during his childhood.
“Pre-production took place during May 2020,” George says. “Shooting started in early August 2020. We shot the film over six weekends, going into fall.”
The story of Windsor pizza turned out to be a very personal story for George.
“I grew up eating Windsor pizza,” he says. “We had to start there, with me and my friends. Pizza was included in everything, all our special occasions. It was in the background in pictures of our birthday parties. Our first stop for the movie was my old neighbourhood.”
Making a road trip film during COVID-19 proved to be a logistical challenge.
“We couldn’t stay with family and friends,” George says. “We had to be super careful. We shot it in Windsor back when the cases were super low. The Casino was closed, so we had to stay in some… pretty interesting places.”
Although Windsor has the most pizzerias per capita in Canada, The Pizza City You’ve Never Heard Of focuses on six of them. As the story unfolds, however, everyone agrees that “Windsor style pizza” originated at one place: the Volcano Pizzeria Restaurant, which opened in 1957. Like a garlic-tinged Garden of Eden, it was from the venerable Volcano pizzeria that many Windsor pizza makers went forth and multiplied. Owned by Frank Gualtieri and his cousin, Gino Manza, the recipe for Windsor pizza was created and refined over a period of years in the Volcano’s kitchen. The documentary reveals there were practical reasons behind every tweak and change.
Frank Tedesco, owner of Franco’s, was quoted in local media in the 1980s, saying: “I started work at the Volcano when I was 15. A lot of people who run pizzerias in Windsor worked at the Volcano.”
“We’re so appreciative to Joe at Antonino’s,” George continues. “Bob at Arcatta helped us out. Everyone who was a part of this welcomed us with open arms. Although we feature six pizzerias, including Windsor Pizza, Capri, Amloze and Armando’s, we also talked to Tom Lucier at the Phog Lounge and Peter Vitti at Spago, because it’s about more than the pizza places themselves, and the culture that surrounds it. We tell Windsor’s story at the same time. We go deep into the family photo albums!”
Joe Ciaravino did not know George before his involvement with the documentary.
“Somebody told George about us and he reached out,” Joe recalls. “The guys came in to Antonino’s on two separate occasions. What grabbed my attention was that George works for Warner music doing background videos on Warner artists. I figured: ‘If there is a guy who can bring this to fruition, it’s a guy who does this for a living.’”
Joe describes how a camera operator brought in a camera on a dolly that looked like a roller skate chassis. “They came back to shoot what they call ‘B roll’ and we had a pizza on a circular table in the dining room, and the camera guy rolled the camera on the dolly 360-degrees around the pizza several times.” Joe laughs. “I can’t wait to see the movie!”
George makes a point of saying the documentary does not rate the six featured pizzerias. It does not say one is better than another. The point of the film is awareness.
“It’s bothered me,” he goes on. “Why does nobody know this? I was talking to a prominent figure in Windsor about a month ago, and he said: ‘I agree, we have world famous pizza.’ No, we don’t. It’s world class pizza, but nobody knows about it. We want it to become famous!”
The documentary has been completed and George and Tristan have submitted it to approximately 30 film festivals.
“We’ve had good early feedback,” George says. “We’re now waiting to see which film festivals will accept it, and it’s through the festivals that we’ll likely sign a deal. At the moment, I can’t really say where the movie will be viewed, but the whole point of making it was to get the story of Windsor pizza out to the world.”
To follow developments about the documentary, visit pizzadocumentary.com.