Eugeno Burlino rose from “street urchin” to owner of a legendary pizzeria.
Eugeno Burlino came from Naples in the late 1800s and settled in Utica, New York, where he worked as a pastry chef. To supplement his income, he also attended the frequent feasts held in the predominantly Italian area and sold simple pies made by his wife: dough, sauce and Romano cheese, or olive oil and anchovy. “He carried the pies around in a big pan, and people would call out, ‘Hey, scugnizzi,’ which meant ‘street urchin,’” his grandson, Mike Burline, says. “In 1914, he opened a little shop to sell the pizzas, and we’ve been going ever since.”
Since those humble beginnings, each generation has added its own contributions to O’Scugnizzo Pizzeria (uticapizza.com) to keep it successful (even by the ’50s, claims Mike, it was the only pizzeria in town). When Eugeno died in 1958, his son Angelo took over, and by the mid-’60s had changed locations and expanded the menu to offer sandwiches and salads. Steven and Mike, sons of Angelo and current co-owners, expanded into franchising by having two outside owners license the pizzeria name for their own Utica-based shops, receiving the main ingredients (including dough, sauce and sausage) from the same central location to maintain consistency. In the past decade, Mike’s son suggested bottling the pizza sauce and selling pies over the Internet to far-flung Utica natives, a move that has proved immensely successful; recently, a customer ordered $600 worth of pizzas for his birthday party in Las Vegas.
Steven describes the celebrated pizza as “upside down”—on a sausage pie, the sausage goes on first, then cheese, and it’s put in the oven to bake, after which the sauce and a sprinkling of grated Romano is added on top. The unique product has driven several generations of fans through the doors, and kept them coming back. “If people grew up here and leave, when they come back, this is the first place they come—and they bring others with them,” marvels Mike. And, despite rising food costs, he adds, “we refuse to change the recipe or cheapen the product, and it shows.”
The success is based on more than a great product, though; Steven chalks up the business’ longevity to old-fashioned hard work. “You can’t relax when you own a pizzeria,” he laughs. “We still have our hands in the dough every day.” —Tracy Morin