As the former host of The Tonight Show, Jay Leno has put on thousands of shows for his fans over the years. So when the beloved comedian recently showed up hungry at The Nona Slice House in Safety Harbor, Florida, owner Jamie Culliton had a chance to return the favor.
Culliton is the athletic coach for PMQ’s U.S. Pizza Team (USPT) and won the gold medal in the 2016 World Pizza Championship’s Freestyle Acrobatics competition in Parma, Italy. Prior to capturing the world’s top dough-spinning honors, Culliton took the silver medal in 2014 and 2015 and was also part of the USPT’s gold medal-winning acrobatic routine at the 2011 WPC event, held that year in Salsomaggiore.
But his pizza-making chops are equally impressive, and Leno, who was performing in Safety Harbor, wanted to try Culliton’s pies for himself.
As Patch.com reported, Leno showed up right as Nona Slice House’s doors opened at noon on Saturday, January 13. “We had no idea he was coming by,” Culliton said. “I was actually at my house when my manager called me and said, ‘Jay Leno is here. You need to get down here right away.’ I just threw clothes and everything on. I didn’t want to miss an opportunity. It was pretty cool.”
Leno was reportedly in Tampa for a live performance and visited an old friend while he was there. The friend suggested they check out The Nona Slice House for lunch.
Once Culliton arrived at the shop, he broke out the Throw Dough and wowed the comedian with his famous dough-spinning skills. Leno also posed for photos with Culliton and members of the Nona team.
“Other guests were trying to get pictures with him, and he was nice enough to sign a to-go menu for us,” Culliton told Patch.com. “A few employees were able to go up and introduce themselves. He was just a super-nice guy, and I was very thankful that he was very friendly and took pictures. It was something he didn’t have to do.”
What kind of pizza did Leno order? He opted for a New York-style slice with cheese and Italian sausage. In a January 15 post on Instagram, Culliton featured that slice as a special and dubbed it The Leno.
The Nona Slice House offers a wide variety of pizzas in multiple styles, including New York, Detroit and what the menu calls “Olde World.” Helen Freund reviewed the pizzeria for the Tampa Bay Times in November 2019 and noted, “I particularly love the New York-style Pistach-I-Dew…topped with crunchy pistachios, peppadew peppers for tang and creamy wisps of ricotta cheese. Fresh arugula adds a spicy kick, as does a drizzle of hot honey.”
But Freund hailed the Detroit-style menu as The Nona Slice House’s “winning attraction.”
“I especially loved the Bee’s Knees…which comes sans sauce but is topped with a heaping of spicy arugula, red onions, shaved Parmesan and hot honey,” Freund wrote. “I’d gladly make the drive to Safety Harbor on a weekly basis for this pie if my schedule—or waistline—allowed for it.”
Freund also got to scope out Culliton’s dough-spinning routine during her visit and recommended it to her readers. “If, at the end of the evening, you still haven’t caught one of Culliton’s performances,” she wrote, “it’s best to stick around a little while longer, order that cheesecake and hope for an encore.”