Chris Woodbeck, the owner of Mangia Macrinas, poses in front of his wood-fired pizza oven at his location in New Hartford.
by Dave Warner
The Stone Mill building will be home to yet another business sometime around the end of April, as Mangia Macrinas Oven Baked Pizza takes over a spot on the first floor on the west end of the building.
Construction has been underway on the location for several weeks, but things have begun to accelerate recently in order to get them up and running by the end of next month.
Chris Woodbeck is the owner, and he grew up in the Mohawk Valley in Frankfort. After high school, he went to college in Portland Oregon and ended up working on campus as a cook. “I used to cook at home when I was young. My mom let me be free-thinking and play with the sauce, but it was mainly because my mom didn’t make good food I think.”
Woodbeck got a lot of time to tinker and learn his skills while at home, and would give the sauce he made away to friends. “There are certain things I like and I want to keep things simple. Keep it basic so you can enjoy it,” he said.
At first, his cooking skills were just for himself, but he always enjoyed sharing what he made. “I’d get good feedback and people would say, ‘this is really good sauce’ and things like that.”
While in Portland, he found that there was a real lack of good Italian restaurants. “I thought, there’s a real need for good Italian food on the west coast. However, I really didn’t want to open a full Italian restaurant. It was not really my mindset.”
While in college though, he started selling his sauce for $5 per jar. “We’d do pasta night on Monday nights for $2 a plate with a coke,” he said. “It was fun because I reached a larger audience with a lot of international students. I would even trade this Japanese kid for haircuts and I’d give him a jar of sauce.”
With all of the attention he was getting with his food, he was asked to be the weekend chef on campus, which meant making meals for about 250 students who stayed over the weekend. “I did breakfast and lunch and being that it was a Bible college, it was affiliated with a church. We’d do this Italian meal on Sundays and it would always be a sellout with the students and church people who knew I was cooking there,” he stated.
While in college, Woodbeck also got to work in several Italian restaurants on the west coast. “It was a great learning experience,” as he got to work all of the positions that were available.
“I always dreamed about having a restaurant and I knew it was going to be called Mangia Macrinas. I have papers that are drawings of what I wanted everything to look like,” stated Woodbeck.
The name is a combination of his grandfather’s name, Macrina, and Mangia which means eat in Italian. “It wasn’t going to be wood-fired pizza at the time because I didn’t know about that. I just didn’t know about Neopolitan style pizza.”
His dream of a restaurant went on the back burner for a while as he came back home, then went back to the west coast and ended up in Minneapolis where he met his wife.
He worked several jobs while in the banking industry and his father-in-law kept trying to get him to try pizza while there. “I thought, I’m from New York, why am I going to try the pizza here? I was being stubborn and thinking I knew everything, and it took me four years before I visited that pizza shop that he had been recommending.”
The first ‘wow’ for Woodbeck was the fact that when he ordered a pizza there, it came out in about 90 seconds. “I thought they had a bunch of them already pre-cooked. But. I found out that they cook at about 800 degrees in the oven and take 90 seconds to finish. I thought ‘that’s impressive’.”
He took a bite of it and loved the texture and the smokiness of it. He said, “It wasn’t like any other kind of pizza that I’d had. Nobody around here had ever done that kind of pizza. New York pizza is totally different.”
His father-in-law built an oven in the back yard and Woodbeck started playing with different kinds of dough and baking it in the oven. “We’d have parties on the weekends and have people bring over different toppings,” while he did the dough, sauce, and cheese.
The economic downturn hit and his job was going to move to St Louis, where he would have to apply for the same job. His choice was to do that or move back to the Mohawk Valley.
“I enjoyed doing it and thought that they don’t have this back there, so I said, let’s do this. So, it was a big move, but my wife was on board with it,” he said.
They rented a house in Ilion and started looking for a location for the restaurant.
“I found out that people wanted top dollar for buildings that were falling down and they wanted me to do the work to fix them in order to rent,” he stated.
He was driving back from a family member’s place in Mayfield, coming through Little Falls when he saw a place that was building concession trailers and it kicked in an idea that he could start selling his pizzas out of a truck.
“It was an easier plan to sell to my wife as far as costs were concerned,” stated Woodbeck.
So, he installed the oven on one and got the business started. “It’s still in use today.”
That’s how Magia Macrinas got started. “I just built my business from there – one pizza at a time.”
He continued to add things to the mix and his menu and found out that, “There was a guy who opened up a bakery with this oven in New Hartford.”
One day he was selling out of his truck in New Hartford and was told that the bakery had closed suddenly. “It was just one of those things where he shut the place down.”
So, Woodbeck ended up picking up the wood-fired oven at auction. “I had an oven that I’d won at auction, but no lease for the building that it was in,” he said.
He also didn’t have anything else to start the business, other than the oven. “We worked out a deal to lease the space, but both my wife and I were sick to our stomachs with stress over the deal.” This was in November of 2016.
The business has proven very successful for him in New Hartford, but he said, “I’ve always liked Little Falls. I like the landscape, and the growth, and what it’s been doing. I always felt that Little Falls was ahead of the curve.”
In business meetings, he had always heard other communities talk about Little Falls and the fact that they should be following what was happening here.
He started talking to Dave Casullo and Neil Rosenbaum over a year ago about the potential of having a second location in Little Falls. “The plan in my head was to open last year, but I know that these things take time. But now, everything has just fallen into place.”
Woodbeck loves the character of the building and the space that he is going to occupy. People who have reviewed his current location say that his pizza is excellent, but that the decor is ‘meh’. “I get it because the ones that had all the extra dollars to spend on decor look cool and have that character. I think the Stone Mill gives us that and we don’t’ have to spend a bunch of money on it.”
He is currently waiting on the oven to come from Italy, where it will be shipped to California for setup and then reboxing to Little Falls. “The company I have ordered from are building the table stand and everything for it, so it will arrive as a kit in Little Falls in order to bring it into the building and assemble on site.”
Once the Valoriani oven arrives and is set up, it has the capacity to do over 100 pizzas in an hour.
“We’re not coming to Little Falls to compete with the other restaurants, but we want to be included with them,” he said. “I go to Ed’s Pizza, I go to Copper Moose, I just like the variety that Little Falls has already. It’s not overpopulated with restaurants.”
Now, every time he comes to Little Falls, everyone is asking him when he’ll be open. “It’s good to hear that and to be wanted,” he stated.
Once open, they’ll have the pizza, salads, and a few appetizers. They also plan on doing beer and wine once they get their liquor license.
Hours and days of operation for the location are also being discussed and have not been set. He stated, “We still plan on keeping the food truck going and that plays a big role in the hours.”
If you are interested in applying for a job at the new restaurant, Woodbeck wants you to contact him through his Facebook page.