Rizzo’s Fine Pizza
Legendary for its square Sicilian slices, this Astoria institution stays successful by keeping it simple.
From the first moment brothers Sal and Joe Rizzo opened Rizzo’s Fine Pizza in Queens, New York, with their brother-in-law Hugo Lupi in 1959, the square Sicilian slices, known for their airy, thin crust, attracted scores of fans. “That signature product caught on almost immediately,” says David Rizzo, Joe’s son and current owner of Rizzo’s. “We offered no toppings and nothing but pizza.” Still, every pie that crossed the counter was rigorously prepared: “I remember watching my father check each pie throughout the various stages of preparation, cooking and serving to make sure it was no less than perfect,” David says.
Perhaps it’s this attention to detail that has allowed Rizzo’s to stand the test of time for 50-plus years. Of course, Rizzo’s also succeeds by looking for that competitive edge. “My father stressed the importance of ensuring you’re always using the best available. If you don’t find it, your competitors might,” David notes. “New York is an extremely competitive market. Anything you do—better food, better service, a cleaner establishment—helps to distinguish you from others who might not be on top of those things. The more reasons you can give a customer to keep coming back, the healthier your business will be.”
Indeed, this compact (just under 500 square feet) pizzeria-that-could has stayed amazingly popular through the decades, earning countless accolades and frequently appearing on “Best of New York” lists. (New York Magazine has described Rizzo’s crust as “perfect.”) In more recent years, Rizzo’s has added locations on the Lower East Side and Upper East Side. But David admits that finding good staff is the biggest challenge to expansion. “There aren’t a lot of people who want to do this for a living,” he says. “What we do requires a deeper commitment. When you’re working with food, if you don’t love what you do, it will show in your cooking.” –Tracy Morin