O’Scugnizzo’s Pizzeria

EricS.

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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.

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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

uticapizza.com

4 Comments

  1. Ron BartonReply
    October 7, 2014 at 9:35 am

    This Hall Of Famer should be placed in the Northeastern catagory.
    Thanks
    P.S. We in New York are proud of this.

    • pmq-ericReply
      October 8, 2014 at 8:30 am

      Thanks for catching that, Ron! We’ll get right on it.

  2. Rick LaPointReply
    February 17, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    I am one of the far flung Utica natives (Alaska now)that will, when I visit bring everyone I can in to have some of that amazing pie. I was just bragging about it the other day. People look at me so strange when I told him the sauce is on top and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. However they don’t look at me strange after they’ve tasted it …EVER!
    Very proud to see this ..About time!
    When will the Florentine( bleecker st) get a spot??

  3. j FedeleReply
    October 28, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    I love stories like this–American success stories of hard working, caring people who are appreciative of the American opportunity to be happy&successful.

    I went to school in Utica 40 years ago, and was always happy with the Italian food I ate almost daily! I didn’t realize then how lucky I was to have such awesome choices at my fingertips. Thank you all for your hard work and dedication to feeding hungry college students and in your humble way making America a successful nation!

    Rock-on!

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