Welcome to Industry Talks, where Eater shines the spotlight on Atlanta chefs, bartenders, sommeliers, and restaurant owners to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their world.
“I went to college at the University of Colorado and got a pizza job at a place called Cosmo’s,” says Glide Pizza owner Rob Birdsong. “I worked there for a little over two years and got a crash course in how to run a pizza shop. I loved that job.”
Cosmo’s is the type of pizza joint befitting a college town like Boulder, he says, doling out 24-inch New York-style pizzas and slices until 2 a.m. — sometimes 4 a.m., if people are still spilling into the restaurant after the bars let out.
His career in restaurants began at 14 with a job at a retirement home in Sandy Springs serving residents dinner a couple of nights a week and brunch on Sundays. It wasn’t glamorous, but for a teenager, it was spending money and where he learned the importance of providing good hospitality, no matter the circumstances.
After college, Birdsong moved to New York City to work at an event and video production company, often times producing large affairs for clients where he needed to feed 500 people in two hours.
“I lived in New York for almost 12 years. I was eating pizza at least five nights a week throughout my 20s and early 30s,” Birdsong recalls. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but I became spoiled eating the most delicious pizza in the world, in the pizza capital of the world.”
When Birdsong moved back to Atlanta with his family to work at a creative agency, he purchased a pizza oven and started experimenting with recipes at home. He soon quit his job to focus on raising money to open a pizzeria serving 20-inch New York-style pies and slices with seating for 30 to 40 people. The pandemic caused Birdsong to scrap those plans.
Glide Pizza debuted instead as a takeout window at Irwin Street Market in July 2020.
“I love making pizza, and I knew if we served good pizza, people would hopefully come. We opened at Irwin Street one day and just started selling pizzas out of the window,” he says. “It felt really appropriate, given the circumstances of the pandemic, and it kept our labor costs down.”
Some of the success Glide Pizza enjoys, Birdsong believes, is also due to the shop’s uncomplicated menu, which includes just three pizzas: cheese; garlic; and pepperoni. People can then add toppings, like red onions, mushrooms, and sausage. A full 20-inch pie comes with pizza ranch and pickled peppers on the side.
As for the name, Birdsong thinks it’s not a great story.
“I was watching some hang gliding videos on YouTube one night and was hungry for pizza. The two just paired up in my mind,” he says. “I pictured a little figurine flying around the sky on a slice of pizza. I wanted a name that was short and easy to remember, and landed on Glide Pizza.”
After nearly two years at Irwin Street Market, Birdsong relocated Glide Pizza in 2022 to Studioplex across the street. Glide Pizza now includes rail seating outside and at picnic tables in front of the building. A second location is also open inside Inner Voice Brewing in Decatur. The takeout window remains an integral part of the pizza business.
“The takeout window is part of Glide’s DNA and will always be a part of it because it works for us and people like it,” Birdsong says.
The responses below were lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Who inspires you as a chef?
I really like chef Zeb Stevenson. He puts a lot of love into his food and you can taste it. What Duane [Kulers) and Omar [Ferrer] are doing over at Pollo Primo and Supremo Taco is also great. Both restaurants have super specialized menus and don’t overcomplicate things.
Favorite off-the-clock meal
I love eating at Talat Market because of what Rod [Lassiter] and Parnass [Savang] are doing there. If they’re running a whole fish dish on the menu, I’m ordering it, because it’s going to be delicious. I love the cocktails here, too, and the desserts.
Favorite restaurants in Atlanta
Favorite pizza restaurants while traveling
I was just in Philadelphia and ate at Pizza Bedia, Angelo’s Pizza, and Pizza Shackamaxon. Philly’s a wonderful pizza town. I’ve got to hand it to them. When people ask me where to get pizza in New York, there’s always two answers: Scarr’s Pizza on Orchard Street and Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Amazing pizza.
What are your future plans in restaurants?
I think I’m only smart enough to keep doing pizza. Three pizzerias is a great number for us and I’m not thinking about anything beyond that right now.
What do you want to see more of on the Atlanta dining scene?
More abbreviated menus at restaurants. I’m a big proponent and advocate of small menus where a chef focuses on what they’re most passionate about, like Zeb [Stevenson], Pollo Primo, and even El Tesoro, another restaurant I love. I feel like Atlanta is starting to shift to tighter menus at restaurants, and that’s exciting.
Most underrated chef or chef to watch in Atlanta
Sarah Dodge [Bread is Good]. I’m very happy to see her opening her own place with Colette Bread. People love her and often see her as the bread delivery lady, and that’s just part of who she is. Watching her maneuver through the industry over the years and now she’s finally getting to do what she wants. That’s so cool.