Ivy's family’s pizza restaurant and brick oven East Coast pies are famous, legendary and deserving of its own food group.
True, the Grimaldi’s Pizzeria co-owners' culinary contributions are well known. However, those aren’t the only ones making a difference.
Ivy Ciolli and her husband, Joseph, are a driving force in more than a dozen annual fundraising events each year, the majority of which benefit nonprofits like the Arizona Weimaraner Rescue, Healing Hearts, Lucky Dog Rescue and PACC911 (Phoenix Animal Care Coalition).
Ivy has served on a multitude of committees for no-kill rescues such as the Arizona Animal Welfare League. Her name is synonymous with the state’s philanthropic landscape. Do an online search of her name, and it takes a lot of scrolling to find something about Ivy that doesn’t include her impressive selfless resume.
And she prefers it that way. Almost. Actually, if she had her way, she’d fly even more under the radar.
“I don’t like the spotlight. I just like doing this and helping others wherever I can,” Ivy says with zero pretention and total humble sincerity.
Born and raised in Scottsdale, Ivy was born with a passion for philanthropic work. She says her family wasn’t financially equipped for the high-profile charity work she and her husband do today, but she did what she could and kept that focus through high school and while working full-time to put herself through school at Arizona State University (ASU).
While she was a senior at ASU, an opportunity came in the form of an internship leading the philanthropic division of a local company. She knew fundraising was the best way to support these efforts, and there, Ivy got her first real-world exposure to this facet of charity work. She loved it.
Ivy’s first solo foray into philanthropic fundraising came when she was 24. She sold raffle tickets for a Mercedes, and the $70,000 raised saved the ASCPA’s animal cruelty division. A year later, Ivy did a fundraiser for the Arizona Weimaraner Rescue.
She hasn’t stopped since.
“Everything leads into something else … I can’t say no,” she says.
Grimaldi’s hosts 12 events each year for animal rescues. The Ciollis also constantly provide support to countless other causes with gift cards and other donations.
Ivy is adamant about making sure animal organizations receive 100% of proceeds, and she works to see that costs like food and venues are donated. Owning a restaurant makes this easy. It’s a perk that facilitates her to continue her passion, which has also become Joseph’s.
“I thought, 'I had a venue and ability to give 100% of proceeds to charity.' … Our belief is that our business is a means to give to those without a voice and those without a choice. We have to be the voice for those who don’t have one,” Ivy says. “The whole purpose of our restaurant is about giving back.”
Ivy met Joseph in 2001, in New York City. She had graduated and was putting her business and communication degrees to work at a Fortune 500 company while he was running the original Grimaldi’s under the Brooklyn Bridge. He had also graduated from ASU—nine years earlier than she—and yearned to expand west so he could live full-time in Arizona, where he had other bars and restaurants.
They made the move to the Valley in 2002 and opened their first Arizona location in Old Town the following year. She helped her husband bring the family vibe Grimaldi’s is known for.
“We both love the energy of the restaurant and talking to people. It’s about making everyone feel warm and welcome. It’s the family feel we established in our restaurants,” she says.
Today, Grimaldi’s presence spans 11 states with 42 locations. The exponential growth opened the philanthropic flood gates.
“When the restaurant really took off, my husband told me to do what I loved and follow my passion,” Ivy recalls.
Ivy diversified her philanthropic portfolio with Childhelp, which helps abused and neglected children worldwide. In 2020, she will chair the nonprofit’s annual Drive the Dream Gala for the second time. No less than 90% of every dollar of proceeds goes to Childhelp.
With the exception of grand galas like these, philanthropy is Ivy’s full-time job. She has never had a staff or committee for her animal causes and is the one-woman production behind the scenes.
Ivy gets emotional when talking about her son, Cole, 10, and daughter, Brooklyn, 7. Both are poised to follow in their mother’s charitable footsteps and regularly see first-hand how the lives of children and animals are transformed with selfless giving.
“They see where their mommy and daddy’s work goes and why we support these organizations. They both have kind and loving souls and want to help others,” Ivy says as her voice cracks and she tries to hold back tears. “They are a big part of what we do.”
Ivy may be a vital conduit between donors and recipients, but she is quick to credit those at the rescues and shelters who are directly exposed to cases that are tough and heart wrenching and have no expectation of accolades.
“They do all the hard work. The easy part is the asking,” she says.
Ivy has no shortage of the success stories that drive her: A little girl that was thrown down a staircase by her abuser is now in a loving home, getting the childhood she deserves, and Ivy has before-and-after pictures of a horse that was emaciated and has since recovered and is living in a safe and happy environment.
“What keeps me going is seeing the difference that these organizations are making. … It puts the biggest smile on your face,” Ivy says.