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With Mother Pizzeria, Kevin O’Donnell Brings Exciting New Pizza To Newport, Rhode Island

The chef-restaurateur from three-year-old Giusto opens a new pizzeria today with sourdough pies and Roman-style pizza.

Kevin O'Donnell photo

Kevin O’Donnell, the chef-owner of Giusto and the new Mother Pizzeria.

When it opens in downtown Newport tonight, Mother Pizzeria will instantly become a destination. Not just for New Englanders, but for anyone who cares about pizza. That’s because chef Kevin O’Donnell and a team from his acclaimed restaurant Giusto are behind it, and because Mother will be an ambitious experiment in being all things pizza for all people. Think of it as part pizza restaurant, part take-out and slice joint.

O’Donnell, a Rhode Island native, already had a colorful career before he decided to set down roots with his wife and young son in Newport, opening Giusto in 2020 despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic. He’d cooked at one of the U.S.’s most acclaimed fine dining Italian restaurants, NYC’s now-closed Del Posto, and worked at prestigious spots in Italy and Paris before landing in Boston and opening a still-successful Venetian restaurant, SRV. 

At Giusto, he’s earned rave reviews and a loyal following for his “freestyle Italian,” a concept he picked up from Chef Lorenzo Polegri while working at Ristorante Zeppelin in Orvieto. O’Donnell’s concept took Italian cuisine, and added inspirations and ingredients from Newport and Rhode Island, to create menus that honor traditions and break boundaries. Now, he’s applying the same ideas to pizza at Mother, which he describes in detail in this interview with Appetito, which has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

What can you tell us about Mother Pizzeria?

There are pizza places everywhere, even in Newport. Some are pizza joints, mom and pop style. There are delivery places, too, but the style of pizza that we're going for doesn't doesn't really exist in Newport and even in Rhode Island, and I think our approach to it is fun. I really wanted Giusto to be this special place with a type of food you can’t get anywhere else. We’re taking a new approach to Italian food through really focusing on Rhode Island—whether it's Rhode Island ingredients, or Rhode Island farms, or Rhode Island's staple dishes that you might see and putting our Italian twist to it. So we're taking a similar approach with the pizza. 

How?

At Mother, all the dough is going to be 100% sourdough. The name Mother comes from the starter culture. So it's all sourdough pizza, stone ground flour. That's kind of important. It's the way that flour has always been made. It has more nutrients and tastes better. It's easier to digest, so there's a lot of good benefits. We’re using stone ground flour from farms from New England. Not everybody thinks of flour as this ingredient that you use locally. It doesn't always get the same attention as other ingredients. And for something like pizza or even pasta, it's the main ingredient.

Pizza with pineapple
A prototype Hawaiian pizza from Mother, a new pizzeria in Newport, RI from the team behind Giusto.

How did the idea for Mother develop?

We took over a Panera that had been there for 20 years. One thing that I know people from Newport are going to miss is quick grab and go food. That's not the main focus that we're trying to do, but we want to offer someone a quick slice of pizza if that’s what they want. There's not a place to get a slice that's really delicious, made with quality ingredients, so we saw an opportunity to hold onto a piece of what Panera did well. 

How is that represented in the layout of the space?

Part of Mother is this takeout/to-go counter service area. And we were able to hold on to the bread ovens that Panera had and they're perfect for this Roman-style pizza that we're going to do. We're going to bake a bunch of pizzas off with different toppings and put them in a glass display case so people can come up and pick which slice they want. You know, We’ll reheat it to get it nice and crisp on the bottom and then people will take it to go and get it out the door in under five minutes. And then we'll also offer like 12” x 12” square pizzas, the same exact style, same toppings. 

What about the pizza that you’ll serve in the restaurant?

The other style of pizza that we're doing is a more traditional round pizza that is somewhere in between New York and Neapolitan. It’s a little crispier than Neapolitan but not quite as thin and large as New York-style.

What will the dine-in experience be like?

We're trying to strike a balance between a casual, everyday restaurant that people want to come to on a Tuesday, for instance, to eat a really delicious pizza, but we will also have domestic cured meats so you can have a salumi and cheese plate. We're going to make cured fish in-house—very tinned fish-esque, but we're going to make it ourselves. We will have different types of homemade breads: sourdough breads, baguettes, Sardinian flatbread. We'll have marinated veggies and salads. Pizza will be kind of a star; that’s the only main course so to speak. 

What about desserts?

We bought an awesome Emery Thompson gelato machine from Florida. We're going to really lean into gelato. It's something that I love to make. We do it really well at Giusto but we have a little bit more creativity there, with flavor combinations that really tie into Rhode Island and nostalgia. At Mother, we're gonna do more classic flavors like fior di latte, pistachio, milk chocolate, and maybe a stracciatella. We're gonna have a lot of fun with toppings, even making our own sprinkles and candied nuts. 

How about wine and drinks at Mother?

There's a full bar. It's a small wine list. The all-Italian wine list at Giusto is amazing, and it's really unique, and we've had so much fun curating it over the past few years. It can be overwhelming for some people, I think—a lot of the varietals that we bring into Giusto are unfamiliar to most people, which is fun but challenging at the same time. At Mother, the wine list is gonna be much smaller and everything is going to be available by the glass, by the carafe, or by the bottle. 

What else do you have to say about Mother?

My two partners are Lauren Schaefer and Kyle Stamps, who worked at Giusto. They're so passionate, and I'm really excited to have partners again. They were opening managers at Giusto, so I'm excited that the three of us are working together at Mother Pizzeria.

Mother Pizzeria, 49 Long Wharf Mall, Newport, RI 02840, motherpizzeria.com

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