Junior’s Pizza, now open on Georgia Avenue in Summerhill, began as a childhood dream for co-owner Alex Aton. He used to dress in a pinstripe suit as a child each time his family ordered pizza for delivery to their Atlanta home and imagined what it would be like to open his own pizzeria one day. That childhood dream eventually propelled Alex into the pizza business, working for a decade as a pizza maker and general manager for Atlanta-based Fellini’s.
Alex began developing his own pizza recipes two years ago, using only a Kitchen Aid stand mixer and the oven in the home he shares with his wife and business partner, Jennifer. The couple would then deliver the pizzas to friends working at tattoo shops and restaurants around Atlanta.
In the summer of 2017, the Atons popped up publicly for the first time at Highland Row Antiques’s monthly parking lot market. They soon realized they couldn’t keep the pies hot and took the pop-up virtual, offering a limited quantity of pizza orders via Instagram on specific days each month. Alex furiously baked pizzas at their home, while Jennifer catalogued orders and delivered each one to customers throughout the city.
Junior’s quickly built an underground following online.
But, the goal was to always open a pizzeria. That opportunity finally presented itself last August when the Atons met with Summerhill developer Carter. “We cooked three pizzas to show them what we wanted to bring to Summerhill,” Jennifer says of pitching Junior’s Pizza to Carter. “Three days later, we had a letter of intent.”
Alex doesn’t like referring to his pizzas as “New York-style”, but admits he’s “inspired by” the variety of pizzas in New York. This includes using “cup and char” pepperonis which curl and char on the edges as they bake for Junior’s thin crust pizzas and offering Sicilian-style deep dish pizzas with a focaccia-like crust over the bready Detroit-style pies.
“To paraphrase [late comedian] George Carlin, New York-style pizza is any pizza that’s not from New York,” Alex laughs.
Junior’s vegan pizzas are topped with Daiya cheese made from cassava and arrowroot. Alex, who was a vegetarian for seven years, hopes to begin baking his vegan pizzas using the coconut oil-based Violife cheese imported from Greece once it finally becomes available in Georgia.
All pizzas are baked in a Marsal and Sons gas-powered deck oven.
Junior’s is currently dine-in only as the Atons gauge the crowds at their new pizzeria, including students returning to nearby Georgia State University and football fans attending games at GSU’s stadium this fall. Takeout and delivery should begin in the near future. Once Junior’s acquires its liquor license from the city, beer and wine will also be available.
Take a look inside Junior’s Pizza:
Customers choose slices or whole pies from a menu hanging above the cash register at the counter. Old school VHS tapes serve as table markers. Orders are then delivered to each table.
“We love the retro feel of the VHS tape. We’re big fans of movies. What better source of art than movie covers,” Alex explains of their handmade place holders. “We just started buying hundreds of VHS tapes one day at thrift stores around town, and it became our thing.”
Junior’s Pizza features 44 seats inside with seating for an additional 40 people outside on the sunny patio. Murals are taking shape on walls throughout the dining room from local Atlanta tattoo artists like Stenvik Moström of Liberty Tattoo.
The Atons have become friends with several tattoo artists over the years, including Moström, who created the 1960s Ed Roth-style hulking green, hot-rodding monster driving a slice of pizza for Junior’s. Roth is considered the “godfather” of the graphic tee and created airbrushed t-shirts for car clubs in Southern California during the late 1950s and 1960s.
“We wanted to pay tribute to our artist friends and bring a different, more grungy style of art to Junior’s,” Alex says. This includes Junior’s logo, which is a play on the Sacred Heart of Christ, created by Phil Colvin of Memorial Tattoo.
A mural of a rainbow unicorn snacking on a slice of pizza was requested by Alex’s daughter and a hand-painted pizza invaders arcade poster sits at the register.
Monday - Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
77 Georgia Avenue, Atlanta. juniorspizzaatl.com.