This Queens-based pizzeria, founded by a Polish immigrant, launched in 1960 but still feels fresh to younger generations.
Phil Ejnes may have come to America with no English or knowledge of Italian food, but he was sharp enough to foresee the benefits of partnering with a big-dreaming pizza man, Tony Scarselli, to open up Pizza Garden in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York, in 1960. Despite realizing success and even opening up additional locations, Phil’s grounded, logical nature clashed with Scarselli’s visions of rapid expansion, and they decided to part ways in 1986. Luckily, Phil’s son, Richard, was already schooled in the pizza business. “I’d had a little pizza place, about 45 minutes away, since 1984, so I sold it and bought Tony’s share of the business,” recalls Richard, the current owner. “I was a partner with my dad from ’86 until the late ’90s, when he retired.”
Over the years, Pizza Garden has weathered plenty of challenges: vastly different neighborhood demographics, ever-increasing government regulations, the advent of online food critics. But the most important things have not changed—especially the cheese, sauce, flour and oven that create the foldable New York-style slices at Pizza Garden, nestled in a strip mall setting with seating for about 40. Or the stalwart employees that have logged decades—two brothers who have made deliveries for the past 50-plus years, a waitress with a quarter-century on the books, and even Richard’s sister and his wife, Carolyn, who’s a regular fixture. “I don’t micromanage, I trust them; if I didn’t, they wouldn’t be there,” Richard says. “They’re good, hardworking people. I’m honest, and I expect the same from them, and they know that.”
While Richard ticks off the usual requisites for success—quality food, warm service and unyielding consistency—he says Pizza Garden’s pies were always designed to appeal to the masses. No surprise, then, that he never fails to please younger generations when hosting frequent morning school trips at his pizzeria, before opening hours. Richard has welcomed more than 50 schools, showing students how to make pizza by doling out dough, sauce and cheese to the youngsters, and teaching them tossing skills with Throw Dough. “If they come from local schools, now they’re new customers,” Richard says. “We have Instagram and Facebook, and a cutout on our boxes for customers to collect (you buy 15 pies and get one free). But it’s all word-of-mouth—no advertising. We keep it simple, because this business is tough enough. Sometimes less is more. But we’ve been here for 60 years in the same location, and that’s got to mean something.”