Don’t let the name fool you—in a city that’s stamped its own style in the annals of pizza history, Modern Apizza remains one of the founding originals.
When Connecticut-born, Italy-raised Antonio “Tony” Tolli returned to his birth state in 1930, he learned the baking trade from his uncle, who owned a successful pastry shop in New Haven. His first solo venture, a pizzeria co-owned with that uncle’s son, lasted only two years, but he immediately went back into the business with the new Tony’s Apizza, opened on State Street in 1936 to serve the area’s mass of Italian immigrants. That concept, renamed Modern Apizza in 1944, would change hands over the decades, but the beloved pizza recipe
Even with the pizzeria’s lasting success over more than a half century, when current owners Bill and Mary Pustari took the helm in 1988, they focused on proving themselves in the shadow of the city’s more famous Wooster Street pizzerias—making renovations, expanding seating and recommitting to the customer experience. Today, Modern Apizza has become a firmly established legend in a legendary pizza town, propelled by impassioned word-of-mouth and a stream of awards, accolades and media attention.
But the Pustari family isn’t resting on reputation alone. Whether shipping pies to soldiers in Iraq or organizing monthly efforts to feed the homeless, giving back remains a cornerstone of the company’s ethics. And, despite some employees clocking in since pre-Pustari days, Modern isn’t afraid to keep up with the times (think gluten-free and vegan-friendly pies). Erica Pustari, daughter of Bill and Mary and current manager, toting a degree in hospitality, joined the family business a couple of years back and has since added an Instagram account to spread the word about everything from new beers on tap to visits from its many celebrity fans. “We’ve hosted Steven Spielberg here and bring the Yankees pizza when they’re training, but everyone is the same to us,” Erica says. “We’re very lucky to be known now all over the country, but we don’t seek that out. It happens because of the love people have for pizza.”
Indeed, Modern has landed its own starring role in a new movie, out this month, that delves into the iconic New Haven style, called Apizza Love Story. But, Erica asserts, the family’s real pleasure is providing a great experience every day for its customers—whether they’ve traveled cross-country to try a Clam Casino pie or visit every week from around the corner. “It just makes us really happy that our pizza makes people happy,” she concludes. “We’re proud to be here every day, providing a great environment and product for people to enjoy. That’s what life is all about.”
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.