Louie & Ernie’s Pizza
Third time was a charm for the founder of this Bronx basement hangout—and, 60 years later, two brothers who joined the team as teenagers keep the pared-down pizzeria hopping.
In the 1950s, Patsy Ottuso tried his hand at pizzeria ownership in Harlem and Florida before returning to New York and opening up Louie & Ernie’s Pizza in the Bronx in 1959. Naming the pizzeria after his two sons, Patsy finally struck business success, then passed the reigns to Ernie, who himself eventually looked to sell after many grueling years in the business. “I started in 1978, at 13 years old, cleaning and prepping for a few bucks,” recalls John Tiso, current co-owner with brother Cosimo. Six years later, his brother joined the biz, similarly starting at the entry level, and they jumped at the opportunity to buy, with financing help from their parents (at the time, John was only 20; Cosimo, 17). “We knew the business and ran with it,” John says.
But it wasn’t smooth sailing straightaway; some loyal regulars initially balked at the change of ownership, though the recipes and menu remained unchanged. “I never envisioned being a pizza man,” Cosimo admits. “The first three years were lean, but we believe in KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. We have limited products—only pizza and calzones—and don’t try to reinvent the wheel.”
Now with 60 years under its belt, Louie & Ernie’s enjoys a robust roster of neighborhood regulars and (thanks to plenty of media mentions and online buzz) tourists from around the globe, halfway filling the visitor-pinned world map posted in-house. The 1,200-square-foot basement spot, with inside seating for 44 and a seasonal patio, is a popular weekend hangout, attracting multigenerational fans with its homey feel. For the Tiso family, it is home—John’s daughter Victoria serves as manager, handling business and marketing, while the pair’s sister Luisa has pitched in since day one. Cosimo’s three daughters help out part-time, too, and Luisa’s son ended up opening his own successful pizzeria in Westchester, New York, creating something of a pizza dynasty through old-fashioned elbow grease. “This is a tough business, and you have to dedicate your life to it,” John says. “You can’t be at every family function, but at least I see my family every day here at work.”
“We show up every day; no one cares the way you care,” Cosimo agrees. “The key is consistency. Not many hands touch the pizza here, just mine and Johnny’s; we’re very hands-on. This fell in my lap—from busboy to owning a top pizzeria 30 years later—but we’re blessed. It’s a real labor of love.”