Mellow Mushroom opens in Williamsburg

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Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers opened in Henry Street Shops Oct. 8 to the public featuring a variety of pizzas and retro décor. MADELINE MONROE / THE FLAT HAT

The grand opening of Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers occurred Monday, Oct. 8 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony taking place at 11 a.m. Williamsburg Mayor Paul Freiling ’83, Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers General Manager Jessica Grimaldo and other community members cut the ribbon of the City’s latest food establishment. The pizza chain is located behind the Cheese Shop and Berett’s Seafood Restaurant and Taphouse in the Henry Street Shops buildings.

Mellow Mushroom’s opening was spurred by a $150,000 economic development grant to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 2017, according to the WYDaily.

During the opening ceremony, Freiling said he discussed owner Gray Nelson’s first encounter with Mellow Mushroom in 2002, when in Destin, Florida, Nelson and his wife stopped by the establishment because Nelson liked mushrooms on his pizza.

“He had what he believed was the best-tasting pizza he’d ever had,” Freiling said. “And this is someone who has lived all over the world — Italy, Chicago and New York, so I guess that’s saying a lot, speaking from experience.”

“He had what he believed was the best-tasting pizza he’d ever had,” Freiling said. “And this is someone who has lived all over the world — Italy, Chicago and New York, so I guess that’s saying a lot, speaking from experience.”

After his first visit to Mellow Mushroom, Freiling said that it became the Nelsons’ dream to open their own Mellow Mushroom. The couple had to wait for their dream, however, as Nelson still served in the U.S. Navy.

“… [T]hey had to put that on hold for about 13 years because Gray was [an] active duty officer in the U.S. Navy, and he was busy defending us and our freedoms while holding on to his dream,” Freiling said. “Thirteen years later, in 2015, they opened their first location in Newport News. Based upon the success of that, they’d thought Williamsburg would be their next destination, and that’s why they’re opening a store here.”

The décor of every Mellow Mushroom is different and is based upon the surrounding community, according to Freiling. The design of the Nelsons’ Mellow Mushroom in Newport News pays homage to life in the navy. Freiling said Henry Street’s Mellow Mushroom reflects Colonial Williamsburg’s revolutionary history, British influence in the 1960s and 1980s and the College of William and Mary’s presence.

“The brickwork is definitely evocative of the historic area,” Freiling said. “If you look in certain places, there’s green and gold tilework — it’s pretty subtle but it’s definitely a nod to William and Mary. In the montage mural that’s out in the hallway … two of the images there are of King William and Queen Mary. Gray even has his father’s William and Mary diploma hanging in the restaurant.”

In an interview with the WYDaily, Nelson said that the 229-seat restaurant borrows from the 1980s, with rock ‘n’ roll décor and music to match.

“It’s a modern English interpretation of British rock and our connection to England, targeting the 80s,” Nelson said.

Freiling doesn’t think Mellow Mushroom will live up to the “mellow” in its name, as he’s expecting large, constant crowds of people who will be encouraged to eat alongside each other.

“One of the things that I find particularly encouraging about this is it’s the type of eating establishment that will appeal to students, to visitors and to other residents alike, and it’ll be a nice place for all those groups to come together in social settings,” Freiling said. “The outdoor areas are fantastic, and when the weather’s nice, it’ll be pretty hard to find a seat out there.”

Grimaldo said she estimated that the establishment had seen over 250 customers by noon.

“Everyone [has been] trained over a week so the staff has been prepared for today and everything’s going smooth right now,” Grimaldo said.

According to Grimaldo, almost a dozen employees are College students. While there are daily lunch specials, Grimaldo does not foresee Mellow Mushroom adding options for student discounts in the future but did say that the restaurant currently accepts military discounts.

Grace Murray ’19 has yet to visit Williamsburg’s Mellow Mushroom, but said she has high hopes for the restaurant after visiting another location in Charlottesville.

“I went to Mellow Mushroom for the first time in Charlottesville and I was instantly jealous of UVA that they had such an incredible dining experience available [to] them,” Murray said. “I am super pumped that William and Mary now is able to offer the same as our greatest rival. The Mediterranean pizza at Mellow Mushroom makes my heart and soul sing and I have already made plans this week to go and get one.”

“I went to Mellow Mushroom for the first time in Charlottesville and I was instantly jealous of UVA that they had such an incredible dining experience available [to] them,” Murray said. “I am super pumped that William and Mary now is able to offer the same as our greatest rival. The Mediterranean pizza at Mellow Mushroom makes my heart and soul sing and I have already made plans this week to go and get one.”

With The Crust’s closure in 2017, Murray said that she and other students are grateful to have another option for pizza available near campus.

“I think a lot of students are excited to have that opportunity again to go grab a quick slice at some place other than Domino’s,” Murray said. “I know a lot of people are already making plans to go [to Mellow Mushroom] as soon as possible.”