Golden opportunity puts ex-con in Stamford pizza business
STAMFORD — If you ask him, James Gibson will tell you he used to run the streets, drugging and drinking.
A felon who Judicial Branch records show was convicted of a 2002 robbery in Norwalk where a man was shot, Gibson spent the next four Christmases and birthdays in jail.
“I spent over 20 years living the lifestyle, like a gangster, like a gangbanger, a dealer,” he said, his bright eyes unwavering from their laser focus even while talking about something so embarrassing.
Now at 38, Gibson is running his own business at the First Presbyterian Church on Bedford Street. Stop by or pull through the driveway any evening other than Sunday and he will be there making pizzas in a brand new Little Box Pizza truck.
Gibson will also tell you that after years of living with little hope for his future, he is astounded to find himself the owner-operator of the business that bases itself at fish church.
“I’m in awe,” he said. “It’s like the universe is the limit. Where can this go from here?”
Nagy, a Fairfield resident, calls Little Box Pizza a “social franchise — where we create a franchise model but we don’t sell them, we give them away.”
Nagy met Gibson in 2016 at Black Rock Church, where Nagy was a member and Gibson the facilities manager.
He said he and Viscoso, who lives in Queens, N.Y., believe that everyone is called upon to do something with their talents that is bigger than themselves.
“We are using our skills and talents to do something to benefit other people,” Nagy said. “It is a lot more rewarding and that is why we are doing it.”
Nagy said he and Viscoso know pizza and how to make it, market it and run a restaurant selling it.
“We can use those skills and talents to help people create small businesses, make turn key operations and teach people how to run them,” Nagy said.
Nagy and Viscoso found the financing for the $250,000 pizza truck, which they hope will be paid back by the profits made on each one of the pizzas.
Nagy says the truck is equipped with a gas-fired oven that cooks the large or small pizzas, which are propelled through the 750-degree oven on a stone conveyor belt. Single-topped pizzas go for $16.95 and the truck also sells garlic rolls, meatball sliders, salads and stuffed cannoli.
After finding the money to build the truck, Nagy and Viscoso looked for the right person to run it. Nagy said that although he went to church regularly, he did not know Gibson.
But a mutual friend told Nagy about Gibson and his background and the idea took hold.
“He completely turned his life around and is an amazing person,” Nagy said. “He was struggling financially and it was hard for him to provide for his family.”
Nagy said he hopes Gibson’s Little Box Pizza will be the first of many trucks in the area being run by those who could use a second chance.
For Gibson, who sold slices and pies Thursday night during the church’s first installment of its Concerts on the Green music series, said turning his life around was not easy.
After getting out of jail in 2005, he knew he wanted to change. He tried to become a carpenter. But after a while living out of his car, the vehicle was stolen.
“So, I went back to getting money the way I was used to getting it, which was not robbing people but it was making a dishonest living by selling drugs,” he said. After almost a decade of dealing drugs and becoming an alcoholic, he realized the bottom was getting ready to fall out of his life and he had to make a real change.
“I surrendered to God,” Gibson said of his revelation in 2014. He then began participating in religious programs at the Bridgeport Rescue Mission, which led him to Black Rock Church in Fairfield.
First Presbyterian Church’s Pastor David Van Dyke said the parish supported Nagy’s idea to bring the Little Box Pizza truck to the church.
“They asked if we could join them in this mission outreach because we had the space here, where it will be their (Little Box Pizza) permanent location,” Van Dyke said. “It is very exciting for us. The social outreach as we understand it is a ministry and it fits with our ministry.”
The church’s music director, Jim Wetherald, said he loves the idea of a pizza truck and he thinks it will be a smash for the concert series.
“These guys know how to do it,” Wetherald said. “They will be serving pizza by the slice from a separate tent, you won’t have to wait for a pizza to be made.”