As a native New Yorker, many of my fondest memories involve eating pizza. I recall my first bite - that joyous blend of aged mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce and spices - more distinctly than I do my first kiss in the back seat of my sister’s boyfriend’s car. Whenever I’m asked to name the one thing that I could eat for rest of my life, my unhesitating answer is always pizza. For New Yorkers like me, the simple corner slice is iconic.
Growing up across the street from Brooklyn’s Pisa Restaurant in the early 1970’s, my friends and I found warm comfort in two doughy, oil-secreting slices and a fountain soda for what now seems like the impossible sum of $1 dollar. We considered the cook and pizza maker, Dominick (a short Italian guy who looked like Lou Costello) and Sammy (who could have easily passed for Donnie Brasco with glasses), our distant cousins.
But then something went horribly wrong. It’s hard to pin a day or a moment in time but suddenly getting a slice of pizza became a dizzying endeavor. Simple pepperoni or sausage suddenly became passé; you could suddenly get every imaginable topping. And forget about the cost - all of a sudden, a single slice at many shops was approaching $3. Even the highly regarded mom and pop operation Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn, voted as the best slice of pizza by various publications, was charging $5!
The brothers, who hail from Brooklyn, studied business in school before embarking on opening their first pizza shop in August 2007 and had no expectation that it would take off.
“We wanted to open a pizzeria and we wanted to create a little bit of a buzz, so we though it would be a good idea for the first week or two to sell pizza (slices) for a dollar” said Eli.” One thing led to another and it just got popular. We realized we created a strong cult following of people. We just delayed the inevitable price increase, until it got to the point where we decided this is who we are and people love us for this particular reason and maybe we can build a brand on selling pizza for a good price.”
Some think the brothers are sacrificing quality over quantity. But for Nate and Cristal, two 17-year old students at the High School of Fashion, the reason for scarfing slices was simple. “It’s not super special but it’s good. It fills you up,” said Cristal. “The price is the first thing,” she grudgingly added.
Computer consultant George Podolak walks nearly eight long Manhattan blocks for 2 Bros. pizza. “It’s the best deal in town,” he said. “It’s a dollar and it’s just as good as a $2.50 slice or the more expensive pies…and it’s always mobbed in here no matter what time of day.”
While the price for cheese and other ingredients are rising, the Halali brothers are intent on keeping the price where it is right now even at the expense of profit and are focusing on building a brand for the long term and hope to expand their operation beyond Manhattan in the near future. In some of their pizza shops, they’ve even begun offering other food options, including chicken, and it is bringing in more customers - and profit,
Any way you slice it, pizza continues to be one of America’s favorite fast foods. Pizza Today magazine tallies more than 70,000 pizzerias nationwide as of 2008 and the industry racks up $35 billion in annual sales.
The popularity of pizza has even inspired an entrepreneur to give tours of the New York pizza experience. Pizza enthusiast Scott Wiener, who quit his boring day job, started Scott’s Pizza Tours two years ago because of his personal fascination with the food. On a tour earlier this year, 17 people forked over $33 each for a four hour walking tour (pizza included) and off Wiener went, describing the history and crucial nuances of coal, brick and deck pizza ovens.
Wiener, who is unabashedly obsessed about pizza, considers the debate about which pizza is the best, even more controversial than politics. His love of the food is evident as he recounts with great pride the time he was allowed to crawl into the coal-fired oven at Lombardi’s Pizza as it was undergoing its annual maintenance.
He says there have always been pizza wars, but mostly among the fans of various pizzerias. “The pizza business is doing very, very well. It’s the perfect recession food. More people gravitate towards inexpensive pizza. Rather than pay $40 dollars for an entrée, you can pay for $15 for a personal pizza,” said Wiener.
But pizza may not have a corner on the market for long; there’s competition from another fast food. On a recent walk I spied, a block away from a 2 Bros. pizza shop near the Port Authority Bus Terminal, a wily entrepreneur – with a sign advertising $1 dollar hamburgers.