First Look: New York-style pizza and more at Junior’s open today in Summerhill

Originally a pop-up turned delivery business from husband-and-wife owners Alex and Jennifer Aton, the counter service New York-style pizza concept is focused on thin-crust pies “using high-quality ingredients and unique recipes.”

The concise, build-your-own menu features pizza by the slice, 14- and 16-inch red and white pies, and Sicilian pan pizzas, along with build-your-own calzones, and house and Greek salads. Look for beer, wine and soft drinks on the beverage menu.

The business end of the build-out is a sparkling new kitchen with four gas-fired Marsal deck ovens on display. Above the order counter, there’s a bright hand-painted menu. And around the dining room, several whimsical murals, including a rainbow unicorn eating pizza by local artist Ashley Anderson, give the space a laid-back vibe.

Last week, while Anderson was up on a ladder sketching out one last composition, and workmen were busy tending to the final touches, the Atons took turns talking about opening Junior’s.

“Alex worked for Fellini’s Pizza for about 10 years, and he was at Bell Street Burritos for about the last three years,” Jennifer Aton said. “But he’s always wanted to own a pizza place. And I’ve been in the industry for about 14 years, as a server and bartender all over Atlanta. We met four years ago, and on our first date, he was so confident that he was going to open a pizza place, I thought it was six months down the road.”

Over the next few years, experimenting with pizza recipes at home, doing sporadic pop-ups, and finally starting a pizza delivery service were the baby steps to finally realizing the dream of Junior’s.

“We would do it once or twice a month out of our little apartment electric oven,” Jennifer recalled. “Alex could get out about 20 pizzas, if we did it all day long, and I would deliver from Hapeville to Buckhead to North Druid Hills. And sometimes people we’d never met would come and pick up pizza from the back door of our apartment. Later, Chad Radford had our pizza at a party, and wrote about it in Creative Loafing, and I got to be on the podcast and talk about it. From there, it just kept going.”

A year ago, the Atons put a call in to Carter, in hopes of landing a brick-and-mortar spot in one of the redevelopment’s storefronts.

“They answered, and the first question they asked was, “Is it Neapolitan pizza?’” Jennifer said, laughing. “Alex said no. And they said, ‘Oh, thank God. We’ll meet you.’ Alex made them three pizzas, and the next week we had a letter of intent. That was late August last year, so we’re coming in at just under a year from when we started.”

For his part, Alex Aton said his longtime obsession with pizza started with Fellini’s and continued as he steadily put together the menu for Junior’s.

“Fellini’s definitely started it, and then it just went from there,” he said. “I tried to absorb as much knowledge about pizza as I could on my own. We took a trip to New York City, and I ate at seven different places in three days. Our Sicilian pizza is sort of based on Prince Street Pizza. They have lines out the door every day. It’s pan-cooked and crispy on the bottom, and light, fluffy and chewy in the middle. Our round pizza is chewy, but it definitely is crispy at the edge. There’s just something about the essential New York-slash-American-style pizza that makes you feel good.

“There are no signature pies here. We’ll probably eventually end up doing a weekly special, and go a little outside of the box with barbecue chicken or things like that. But right now, just come in, tell us what you want and we’ll make it for you.”

77 Georgia Ave., Atlanta.

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