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The Story Behind Mystic Pizza

In 1988, Mystic Pizza, a film about three waitresses working at a small-town pizzeria, was released. This movie, starring a then little-known actress named Julia Roberts and featuring the on-screen debut of Matt Damon, didn’t receive much fanfare when it first opened, but has since become a cult classic and turned a small pizza parlor in Mystic, Connecticut into a global tourist attraction.

Two years after the release of Mystic Pizza, Roberts hit it big with the box office hit Pretty Woman, leading to fans circling back and watching some of her earlier work. And just like that, a tiny Connecticut village with a population of about 4,000 people was on the map.

There’s a bit more to this story, however, which we’ll cover as we look at how this film came to be and what it meant for the owners of the real Mystic Pizza.

Why Mystic?

The Mystic Pizza restaurant has been a fixture in the town since 1973 and has always been quite popular with locals. This popularity is perhaps one reason why Amy Jones, a screenwriter who owned a summer home in the area, walked through its doors. Jones fell in love with the pizzeria, eventually using it as inspiration for her film and the rest, as they say, is history.

Keep in mind that the film wasn’t filmed entirely in Mystic, nor is the town the only inspiration behind the story. In fact, the actual Mystic Pizza wasn't even used in the filming of the movie, as an old home turned warehouse and office on Water Street in Stonington Borough was converted to look like a pizza parlor. Following the release of the movie, the Mystic Pizza restaurant was renovated to look like the set from the film to help capitalize on its newfound fame.

Many locations from the film are in Stonington Borough, including the restaurant used for the wedding reception, the Windsor's family home, the fishing docks, and the pool hall, for which filmmakers used the Portuguese Holy Ghost Society’s building. In addition, Pawcatuck handled scenes at the Araújo's family home, the lobster business was in Noank, the church at the beginning of the film was Saints Peter & Paul Parish in New London, and the country club was in Watch Hill, Rhode Island.

If you're watching the film looking for places in Mystic, however, you'll see the Treworgy Planetarium and the Mystic River Bascule Bridge. Many of the outdoor scenes also take place in the village, but there aren’t any landmarks visible on film. Plenty of locals from Mystic also got involved in the filming, as 700 extras participated in scenes, and residents helped construct sets throughout the area and even taught actors how to string bait for lobster traps.

Building a Set

As mentioned previously, the real Mystic Pizza wasn’t used in the film. Using the building wasn't possible because it was too small to accommodate the filming on the movie, and the owners couldn't afford to close their doors for multiple months as the production concluded.

Because of this, an entirely new restaurant has to be constructed for filming. The set was built inside the Garbo Building, which at the time housed the offices for Garbo Lobster Company. When redesigning the interior, the crew added Victorian features, pizza ovens, 1950s-style counters, and signage to the exterior. The end result was the appearance of a vintage pizza parlor in Stonington Borough.

Mystic Pizza as a Destination

Since the popularity of the movie grew, Mystic Pizza has become a tourist attraction in its own right. People who have seen the movie love snapping pictures of its exterior, which even though it didn't appear in the film, looks just like the set that was used.

Inside the restaurant, the walls are filled with movie memorabilia and you can even purchase "A Slice of Heaven" t-shirts, just like the characters wear at work. The film also runs on a loop inside the pizzeria and plenty of other souvenirs are available.

The restaurant is an exceptional stop for anyone who loves this movie, Hollywood history, or is simply a fan of great pizza, as Mystic Pizza serves one of the best pies in the entire area. Mystic Pizza remains a family-owned business that has capitalized on its notoriety from the film, but also remains popular with locals because of the high quality food that is available.

Stopping By Mystic

The fact that this movie was filmed in Mystic is a small quirk in the village’s history. Those who were in the area in the late 1980s often look back on this time fondly because it was an era where Mystic, Connecticut was known all over the world, even if for a brief period of time.

When you buy a home in Mystic, you’ll quickly learn that the community’s history is incredibly rich and there are plenty of other stories worth exploring as you immerse yourself in this unique part of the country.

Published December 19, 2018 in Connecticut Towns and Villages, Did You Know?