Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Oh, boy! Pizza!

Location:   Manhattan
Year:   1895

Pizza is a multi-billion dollar business in the United States today (thanks in part to mass-production pseudo-pizza chains like Pizza Hut, Domino's, Little Caesar's, Godfather's and Papa John's; we choose not to dwell on these abominations), but real pizza, which is to say New York pizza, arose from humble beginnings. 

Gennaro Lombardi was a Neapolitan immigrant to the United States, arriving sometime in 1895. He settled in the densely-packed neighborhood on the Lower East Side known then and now as Little Italy, and in 1897, got a job as a clerk and stock boy in a local grocery. 

Fortunately for Signor Lombardi, he had been a baker in the Old Country, and decided to begin baking pizzas as a sideline to his boss' grocery business. For lack of cash, he was forced to use the store's coal-fired stove for his baking, and a similar lack of cash forced him to substitute fior di latte for mozzarella di bufala in his pizzas. It didn't matter. Business boomed as word spread that pizza had appeared in America. 

In 1905, Lombardi bought out his boss' grocery business and turned the location into the first full-time pizzeria on the western side of the Atlantic. Business became so good that Lombardi had to hire a second baker, Antonio Totonno, who, with certain idiosyncratic changes to the pies, opened the first pizzeria in Brooklyn in 1924. Lombardi's and Totonno's are still operating in their original locations.

The friendly rivalry between the two men presaged the "Pizza Wars" of the early 20th Century, as other pizzaiolos, coming late to the table, vied to give customers "The Best Pizza in New York"---and thus, America. 

Sorry, Chicago. Don't even think about it.   

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