Four boyhood pals step up to keep their favorite hometown pizzeria thriving—and are growing it far beyond their predecessors’ dreams.
Though details are fuzzy from Colony Grill’s earliest years, the tavern was established by Irish Americans in 1935 in Stamford, Connecticut, and introduced bar pies in the late ’40s. With a superthin crust and snackable 12” diameter, pizza soon became the pub’s sole menu staple, thanks in part to its now-iconic hot oil topping, drizzled on before baking for a spicy kick.
Eugene “Bo-Bo” Bohannon manned the business from 1961 and built its cult following into the 2000s, after which four childhood friends teamed up to assume operations. The foursome has unique but complementary backgrounds: Paul Coniglio worked in financial analysis, sales and business development; Ken Martin brought culinary and foodservice experience; Chris Drury enjoyed a successful pro-hockey career; and Cody Lee owned a masonry company. “We’d gone to Colony Grill as kids, loved it, and thought it could be duplicated in like-minded neighborhoods,” recalls Martin, current CEO. “We couldn’t be more excited to carry on Colony Grill’s legacy.”
Since 2010, the team has added four more locations in Connecticut and New York, with a sixth planned for this year in Arlington, Virginia—a natural setting, as the company maintains a strong focus on military service. Each outlet features a “Wall of Heroes” celebrating locals who have served, while its annual Hot Oil 5K race has raised thousands for veterans and first responders. “We’re very close to veterans’ affairs, with free pizza for them every Veterans Day,” Martin adds. “Last year, we partnered with Wreaths Across America; for each sold in-store, a wreath was laid at veterans’ cemeteries.”
While retaining the spirit of the original business, the new owners have also invested in updated technology and internal processes to streamline expansion. Though Colony Grill boasts 20,000-plus social media followers, traditional advertising takes a backseat to investing in the business—training staff, offering leadership development for managers—and supporting the community via programs like youth athletics.
Indeed, its team-building focus has created remarkably low turnover. Full-timers reap full benefits and pay scales top industry averages. An end-of-year awards dinner recognizes talent, management receives a clearly outlined bonus package for hitting goals, and an annual staff survey solicits (and implements) team members’ ideas. And the business closes 10 days per year so employees can spend time with their families. “We’d rather spend on making our people better, because if you give a good experience and make people happy, that’s the best advertising we have,” Martin explains. “When you have great people and invest in your systems, that’s a recipe for success.”
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.