A dedicated blue-collar clientele—folks who liked to nibble while knocking back brews—helped make this award-winning Staten Island stalwart a success.
Denino’s (deninos.com) operated as a few businesses after 1923—confectionary, pool hall, tavern—but pizza is what put this now-famous operation on the map. Carlo Denino introduced pizza to the tavern in 1951 and earned immediate success, thanks to a dedicated blue-collar clientele looking to nibble while knocking back brews. “A friend of his came in and started making the pizzas, and he showed my stepfather how to make them,” recounts Michael Burke, co-owner and stepson of Carlo, who runs the business today with his mother and sister. “It became a hit after that; they never needed any advertising.”
Denino, who passed away in 2000, was content with a small operation (25 to 30 seats), but Denino’s has grown rapidly in recent years. The original location has been renovated twice and currently boasts a new 3,000-square-foot kitchen, an additional dining room (increasing capacity to 250 seats) and a full bar. A second location opened in Brick, New Jersey, in 2010, while interested parties up and down the Eastern seaboard have approached Burke looking for franchise opportunities, he says. “We have consistency and use the best products, and low overhead allows us to keep our prices affordable,” Burke says of his business’ success. “And the family atmosphere ensures that everyone is accommodated.”
His biggest challenge has been keeping prices stable despite fluctuations of the market—prices for flour, cheese and calamari (the best-selling appetizer) have skyrocketed over time, he notes—but his greatest pleasure has been making friends through the business and seeing multiple generations enjoy his thin-crust pies. In fact, he adds, owners from the top three pizzerias in Staten Island have traditionally maintained close friendships, helping each other out with supplies when necessary. “We’re just happy to make a living, and we’ve been very fortunate,” says Burke. “Especially in New York, there’s a lot of competition, but we hope everyone does well and makes a living.” –Tracy Morin