“Have you tried the pot pies from the guy in Marietta?” asked a colleague. She handed me a menu that listed a dozen varieties of pot pies.
My stomach was overdue for lunch the day I hit up Paul’s Pot Pies, located half a block off Marietta Square. I stopped for a second to admire the tiny storefront — homey and cheery, with flower boxes hanging below the windows — then made a beeline for the door. Like I said, I was hungry — and surprised to find not a single table. A no-frills counter was the only thing separating me from the kitchen.
A middle-aged fellow with dark hair, smiling eyes but a straight face stepped forward from the kitchen.
“Where are the pot pies?” I asked. “This isn’t a restaurant? Are you Paul?”
The pot pies were in the back. Frozen. Ready to bake at home. Or, I could wait 45 minutes or so while he baked it. No, it wasn’t a restaurant — but it was, once upon a time. And, yes, he was Paul, he said with a thick New Jersey accent.
My stomach was growling audibly. Waiting 45 minutes wouldn’t do, but I’d come all this way for pies, so I bought three: jambalaya, chicken curry and vegetarian.
I took them home, baked them that evening, and, after putting a fork into flaky crusts and biting into meaty jambalaya, I went back to chat with Paul.
How did this guy from Jersey become the pot pie guy of Marietta?
It all started back in the early 1980s, when Paul Lubertazzi attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. (Fun fact: Lubertazzi hails from Nutley, N.J., which claims another hometown culinarian by the name of Martha Stewart.) The early 1980s were before it was cool to be a chef. Before arriving as a chef meant hosting reality TV cooking competitions. Before getting discovered happened by posting food porn on Instagram.
After graduating from the CIA in 1981, Lubertazzi moved to Atlanta to work at the restaurant at the now-defunct Guest Quarters Hotel in Sandy Springs. His mother, Pat Bowen, had relocated here for a sales position, so it made sense for Lubertazzi to venture south too, he explained.
A year later, he switched to the kitchen at the Waverly Hotel. In 1984, he and his mother joined forces and opened a restaurant called Travelling Fare at 10 Mill St. in Marietta, just off of the historic square. He was the chef, she handled the business side.
They ran the restaurant for 20 years. And, for 20 years, the menu item everyone kept ordering was the chicken pot pie, which they offered by the slice. People would even purchase whole pies to take home.
“So, I thought, maybe we’re on to something here,” Lubertazzi recalled.
In 2005, he made the switch from restaurateur to retail food shop owner and opened Paul’s Pot Pies. “It’s a lot easier to stick to one thing instead of have 30 items on the menu. You just have to do one thing good,” he said.
Well, 12 versions of one thing, that is. Or 24, if you consider that each variety is available as a 6-inch or 10-inch pie.
The classic chicken, turkey and pot roast are his best sellers, but that Italian sausage is pretty darn good. The seafood chowder, too.
Whose recipes are they? “I just made them up,” he replied casually. “You can put whatever you want in it.”
The secret to the goodness of his pot pies, Lubertazzi said, is that he doesn’t skimp on the main filling ingredient. The chicken, for example, is 90 percent chunks of juicy chicken. “It’s not all vegetables with just a little bit of chicken in it.”
Unlike the Soup Nazi of “Seinfeld” fame, Lubertazzi also is accommodating. “We can add stuff or leave stuff out,” he said. The most typical request: no peas, please. He makes crustless pies on request. And he’ll have steaming hot pies ready for folks who call ahead. No additional charge.
Lubertazzi doesn’t know how many pies a week he makes. He just knows that he’s got to keep the freezer stocked. Apparently, pot pies know no season.
“In the summertime, it can be 98 degrees outside and we’re selling a ton of pies,” Lubertazzi said.
And nearly a third of what he sells is given away as a gift — “someone had a baby, someone is in the hospital.” This summer, he plans to debut sampler packs featuring an assortment of 4-inch pies to meet the increased demand for pot pies as the perfect edible gift.
Business has been brisk enough that, last year, Lubertazzi expanded with a location in Kennesaw. He hopes to turn that spot at 2750 Jiles Road into the main production site for his pies, since the 4,500-square-foot space is more than four times the size of the Marietta shop. Paul’s Pot Pies also has stalls at farmers markets in Brookhaven, Jasper and Marietta, with hopes to become a vendor at the markets in Alpharetta, Decatur and Kennesaw.
Some 11 years after founding Paul’s Pot Pies, and 35 years into a culinary career, Lubertazzi still works a grinding schedule — 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., with rarely a day off. He’s glad to have his brother, Tommy Lubertazzi, lending a hand in the kitchen, his 16-year-old son, Brayden, manning the cash register a couple of days a week after school, and his 12-year-old daughter, Renae, grabbing frozen pies out of the cooler for customers at farmers markets. Not to mention his wife, Roberta Lubertazzi, who does all of the above and more. “Clean, prep, pretty much everything,” he said of how his better half assists with the business.
Lubertazzi doesn’t talk of being tired. For this family man, there is a joy in making one of the most comforting of comfort foods.
Plus, it’s hard to beat the simple pleasure of rolling out dough. Why? “There’s nothing to think about.”