PEARLAND, Texas (KTRK) — A high school pizza recipe turned into a passion for a Pearland owner who lives by his restaurant’s name.

Behind the pizza bar is where Grazia Italian owner Adrian Hembree prefers to be. He got his love for cooking in high school with a pizza recipe.

Thirty years later, he’s creating his own recipes. Hembree opened Grazia Italian in Pearland five years ago. It’s now home to three locations, including one restaurant in Katy. It took a while to get there.

He started as a dishwasher, moved to food distribution, and finally opened his own place.

“It has an incredible community feel to me,” Hembree explained. “You could drive through Pearland and you could still see small town all over the place.”
Hembree wanted to offer a unique experience. Take the wine room, for example.

“Don’t be surprised when our chef pops out of the secret door that goes directly to the kitchen,” Hembree said.

Or walk beyond the bathroom and step into the phone booth.

“Once you give the right password you open up and it brings you into our speakeasy,” Hembree said.

What Hembree is most proud of is the name Grazia, which means “grace” in Italian.

“We like to say, ‘We serve up a plate of grace,'” Hembree said.

It’s grace he offers to the community through different events, whether it was food during Hurricane Harvey or to employees when they need it the most.

Giavanna Gardella worked at Grazia Italian as a hostess when cancer cut her life short.

“The week that she got diagnosed, they visited her in the hospital,” Craig Gardella, Giavanna’s father, recalled. “They brought Grazia food up to her because hospital food, she said, was crap.”

In May, the restaurant fed more than 200 people during her remembrance ceremony.

“Somebody like Adrian coming through and helping you in a bad period of time means the world,” Craig said.

Bringing a smile to someone’s face is what Hembree loves most about his job. It’s an emotion all started after bringing home a pizza recipe.

“If you’re following your heart and do something that you truly love, and you’re passionate about it, great things will happen if you put in the time and make it happen,” Hembree said.