George Germon, co-proprietor of Providence, R.I.’s famed Al Forno and an evangelist of the flash-baking process now used by virtually every fast-casual pizza brand, died Tuesday at age 70.
Germon operated Al Forno with his wife, Joanne Killeen, for 35 years. When it opened, Providence was a culinary backwater known mostly for its corrupt politicians and easy drive to good Italian restaurants in Boston. Al Forno drew the attention of the nation with its charcoal-fired pizza ovens, which yielded crispy pies in a flash because of the high heat.
Patrons also loved the charcoal-y taste. Germon used charcoal made from local hardwood trees. He remarked in an interview years ago that Al Forno would typically sell 200 pies a night.
He also realized the taste benefits of using local produce and ingredients long before that procurement method came into vogue.
Because the Johnson & Wales culinary school is a neighbor, a number of today’s big-name chefs started their careers at Al Forno, a prized place to list on resumes. The alumni include Suzanne Goin and Brian Oringer.
Germon was a sculptor by training who fell into the business because he and Killeen, a photographer, weren’t making enough money in their original professions. They opened Al Forno in 1980 while continuing to pursue their interests in the arts.
The restaurant’s renown helped to foster national interest in the Providence dining scene. The Italian restaurant would remain one of the most popular and critically celebrated gems.