From pro cycling to pizza maker
By Steve Jusseaume
Seacoast Scene, July 9, 2014
HAMPTON – It’s a long way from Eastern Europe to the New Hampshire Seacoast, and an improbable leap from pro cycling to pizza maker, but Greg Qirjazi has done just that. And after opening Greg’s Pizza on Lafayette Road in downtown Hampton seven years ago, Qirjazi recently changed the name of the eatery to Greg’s Bistro, expanding the menu and adding a full-service bar. Business is booming, especially his lunch business. Customers line up at the door when the place opens at 11 a.m. for both sit-down and take-out lunches (The bar opens at 11 a.m. as well). Dinnertime is equally busy.
Qirjazi’s grandfather, along with two brothers, were the first of the family to come to the United States back in about 1917. An uncle who would change his name to Karas was born in 1932. “The fact I had family here made my move easier, but I didn’t speak any English, I didn’t know the language, was still a big problem at first,” Greg recalled. Uncle Charlie became a professor of psychiatry and taught at Tufts for many years (he died this past June).
Greg’s parents arrived in the 1990s, along with his siblings. Greg’s parents, Zise and Olga, are still alive and live in West Peabody.
Qirjazi, 52, was born and raised in Finiqi in the Greek minority community in Albania, became a citizen shortly after his arrival in 1990. In doing so, Qirjazi left a 13-year career as a professional cyclist behind.
“I enjoyed my career in pro cycling,” said Qirjazi recently. “I competed for 13 years in Albania and In Greece and enjoyed the ride.” At one time he rode for the Albanian national team, his city team, and competed throughout Eastern Europe, including in Turkey and the Balkans. “I guess I just I had strong lungs,” he smiled, adding that cycling is “very big” in Eastern Europe. He’s happy to be here however. “Albania was a good place to grow up, but this country is the best country in the world. Here you have opportunities you don’t have elsewhere,” Qirjazi said.
After the family relocated to the Peabody area in the early 90’s, Qirjazi operated a series of pizza joints, beginning with a cafeteria-style restaurant associated with a publishing company complex before opening his own pizza/seafood restaurant in Wakefield. He opened Greg’s Cafeteria in Peabody, then found Hampton, where he bought the building block just south of the downtown traffic intersection and opened Greg’s Pizza in 2007. He opened the bar four years later.
“It’s hard work, but we give good quality food and we respect our customers,” Qirjazi said, “and Hampton is a great town, it’s a great community with wonderful people and with a terrific community spirit.”
Qirjazi has seven employees, most of them family members. His wife of 21 years, Julia, is a fixture at the restaurant, while both his sons, David, 18, and Jason, 14, work part-time. Jason, he noted, is vacationing back home in Albania this summer with his grandparents. Qirjazi’s wife’s brother, Andrew Cora, is the head chef and manager of the Bistro.
Several of Qirjazi’s siblings (he has three brothers and two sisters) work in the restaurant industry. One sister has owned and operated the House of Pizza in Harwich port for 13 years. All the family lives close near each other, in Peabody, Topsfield and Middleton, Mass.
The Bistro offers a wide-ranging menu, which includes a variety of gourmet pizzas, as well as pasta, seafood, calzones, sandwiches, wraps and subs. Some of Qirjazi’s featured items include Greg’s Special Pizza, a hot roast beef sandwich, and a grilled chicken kabob. Seafood dishes start at about $10, pasta items less than that, hot and cold subs at $6, and a plethora of side dishes.
“We have a variety if dishes, from Special Greg’s Pizza to calzones and club sandwiches. Most everything on the menu is popular. Everything flies,” said Qirjazi.
Greg’s Bistro is open seven days a week during the summer, 11 a.m. to closing. The kitchen closes at 10 p.m. and the bar, which opens for lunchtime, closes at 11 p.m. every day. The Bistro offers gift certificates and catering services, and will deliver ($8 minimum). The phone number at Greg’s Bistro is 926-0020 or 926-1110.
“Coming to the country was a difficult move for all of us, but everybody in our family worked very hard to make a new life here, and we are all grateful for the opportunity,” Qirjazi said.
Greg Qirjazi with wife Julia and son David