42nd Street Pizza
Despite decades of neighborhood hardship—and ruthless development—owner Louie Gritsipis delights in his pizzeria remaining a familiar fixture in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen.
Louie Gritsipis, owner of 42nd Street Pizza in New York, didn’t stay in the United States long after emigrating from Greece at 18 years old. He was soon back in his homeland, completing a four-year stint in the Navy, where he worked as a cook. But by 1958 he landed in New York City, soon learning the ropes of pizza prep from his uncle. “He had a small store uptown, and he taught me little by little,” Gritsipis recalls. “We opened 42nd Street Pizza in 1965. Coming here with no English, no money, still I did it.”
Gritsipis indeed embodies the American Dream, but he’s also a walking example of another key American trait: resilience. With his location established in then-rough-and-tumble Hell’s Kitchen, he recalls that drugs, prostitution and violence ravaged the streets in the ’60s and ’70s (even his menu mentions that he was held up at gunpoint seven times). Later, after Mayor Rudy Giuliani took a hard-line approach to cleaning up the city, Gritsipis found himself in another tug of war—this time with big-money interests, who offered him millions to vacate the building. But he held firm, declining the offer and sticking to his rigorous work schedule. “What am I going to do with the money?” he asks. “I’m happy with what I have, whether it’s one dollar or 500. I have my health. I work 16, 17 hours a day and didn’t go to a doctor for the first time until I was 65!”
Though he has witnessed night-and-day changes to the area, Gritsipis has long learned to roll with the punches. When he began, he remembers, rent cost $27, pizza was 15 cents, and employees took home $35 a week. Today, he faces skyrocketing costs, strict health codes and ever-increasing competition—but believes that his old-school focus on from-scratch food and family-style service keeps his modest outpost thriving. Even better, it gathers his family, including wife Raquel, son Andreas and granddaughter Athena, under one roof to pay homage to the pizzeria’s past while shuttling it into the future. “I love to work,” Gritsipis says. “I love my life and my family. And people in the neighborhood love me, too. I get to put on my apron and say hi to my friends all day. Nothing could be better than that.”
By Tracy Morin