ABOVE: Robert Intelisano (center) outside of Lombardi’s in Manhattan, the first pizzeria in the U.S., with a group he recently led on a pizza crawl.
BY ROBERT ITELISANO
Pizza is my favorite food! My passion for pizza goes back to my early childhood, when my Sicilian grandmother, Anna Leonardi-Intelisano, made pizza for us on Friday nights.
Pizza was invented in Naples, Italy, in the early to mid-1800’s. The classic Margherita-style pizza was named after the Queen Margherita. In celebration of the queen’s visit to Naples in 1889, a popular pizzeria made a pizza pie to match the green, white, and red of the Italian flag.
Pizza became popular in the Unites States in late 1945, when returning soldiers who were stationed in Italy fighting in WWII spread the word. The first pizzeria in the U.S. was Lombardi’s, which opened in 1905.
I led a pizza crawl in October 2019 which started at Famous Ben’s, then on to Prince Street pizza (my #1 pepperoni Sicilian slice), followed by a fabulous sit-down meal in the famous basement dining room of Lombardi’s.
I have asked many people “who opened up the first pizzeria serving slices in Queens?” Unless you live in Woodside, the odds are good you will not know the answer.
The story goes back to 1954. My Grandma Anna loaned $3,000 to her “compare” Alfredo Leotta, to make his dream come true. Anna was the maid of honor at Alfredo’s wedding, and he opened Alfredo’s Pizzeria later that year.
Alfredo’s was the first pizzeria in Queens to serve slices of pizza. It was located across from the original Saint Sebastian’s Church, which was demolished when the parish bought the Loew’s Theatre on Roosevelt Avenue and 58th Street.
The original cost for a slice was 25 cents. Alfredo was a tremendous pizzaiola, however he did not speak English well and did not know how to properly run a small business. Alfredo should have considered joining the Queens Chamber of Commerce, which was founded in 1911.
After five years of limited profitability, Alfredo decided to close the business and went into landscaping. Shortly after Alfredo’s grand opening, word traveled and there were other pizzerias in the works.
Here are the first ten pizzerias to open in the borough:
• 1954: Alfredo’s Pizzeria in Woodside
• 1956: New Park Pizza in Howard Beach
• 1959: Dani’s House of Pizza in Kew Gardens
• 1959: Rizzo’s Fine Pizza in Astoria
• 1959: VIP Pizza in Bayside
• 1960: Pizza Garden in Flushing
• 1960: Gloria Pizza in Flushing
• 1961: Freddy’s Pizzeria in Whitestone
• 1962: Lucia Pizza in Flushing
• 1963: Brother’s Pizza in Fresh Meadows
Queens Chamber of Commerce President Tom Grech proposed that I write a monthly column on pizza for This Is Queensborough. Tom, I have chosen to accept the mission!
Recently, a food and restaurant review website called “The Infatuation” published their top 24 New York City pizzeria slices list. It included the five boroughs and northern New Jersey.
Guess how many Queens-based pizzerias were on their list? Zero! This lack of Queens pizza respect is one of the reasons I chose to write this column.
Since the early 1960’s, the price of a regular New York slice has almost matched the price of a subway token. This was called the “Pizza Principle” or the “Pizza-Subway Connection.” This held true until roughly eight years ago when pizza prices started to ramp up and became a huge money-making business.
Now, mostly due to inflation and COVID-related supply chain shortages, many pizzerias charge anywhere from $4 to $5 per gourmet slice with toppings. Americans love pizza regardless of how much a slice costs!
Courtesy of FactRetriever, here are ten pizza factoids:
1. In America, annual pizza sales exceed $28 billion per year.
2. Over 5 billion pizzas are sold every year in the world.
3. Over 3 billion pizzas are sold every year in the United States.
4. Americans eat approximately 350 slices per second.
5. Recently, Halloween unseated Super Bowl Sunday as the biggest pizza consumption day.
6. Thanksgiving is the day Americans eat the least amount of pizza.
7. October is national pizza month.
8. The average American eats about 46 slices or 23 pounds per year.
9. The most popular pizza topping in the USA is pepperoni.
10. Lady Gaga once bought $1,000 worth of pizza for fans waiting in line for her autograph!
What is your favorite pizzeria or favorite slice? I have a list of highly ranked pizza places I am planning on reviewing and am depending on you to help me complete the list. Does your favorite pizzeria not get the proper respect? Email me your favorite pizzeria and slice at [email protected]. If I get enough requests, I will review your favorite spot!