Pizza’s roots are ingrained in this city’s history, and now The New York Pizza Project, a Kickstarter-funded book, aims to capture the stories and scenes behind New York’s neighborhood pizzerias. Project member Ian Manheimer explained that the book, which started as a series of casual weekend jaunts three years ago and blossomed into this crowd-sourced adventure, raised its funding goal of $15,000 in 24 hours. With three weeks to go, they’ve already hit $20,000. Pizza lover and fellow group member Gabe Zimmer took time to discuss the group’s origins, underrated slice shops, and the scope of the project.
How did this project come about?
The five of us were hanging around one day, having a common debate about the best slices in NYC, and we found ourselves reminiscing about the pizza shops we grew up on. The conversation turned to us talking about the people and things that made our local spots great. After a little while one of us threw out, “Hey, that’s a book.” And here we are about to make it happen.
Let’s get philosophical: Who are you guys apart from this project?
We are all native New Yorkers and we share a deep connection with this city. Aside from our various day jobs, we’re all passionate about keeping the New York City we grew up in alive and well. It’s easy to get discouraged about the direction the city is going as the cost of rent and the influx of chain stores and luxury hotels keep pushing out the little guys. By celebrating the people and places that keep New York great, we hope to preserve and represent what we love so much about this town.
And who are you guys together? Do you plan to form some kind of cheese, sauce, and dough Voltron?
Haha, unfortunately no. Together we are just five friends who eat a disgusting amount of pizza.
Which place had your favorite story? Did they also serve your favorite slice?
There’s a place called Brother’s Pizzeria in Staten Island. They didn’t have my favorite story, but after talking with the owners for a little, they showed us around the shop, pointing out various photos and things on the wall. We came to a large framed photograph of their family with the entire cast of The Sopranos, in what looked to be a photo shoot that was set up just for this occasion. Paulie Walnuts was giving the owner’s son a noogie. Tony had his arm around the owner of the shop, smiling like they were best friends. I am still in complete awe of that image, mainly because I wish it was me in there. As far as favorite slice goes, that’s a conversation for another day.
You surpassed your goal in a day. Where do you go from here? A New York pizza documentary? A pizza theme park? I want to ride a lazy marinara river while nestled inside a bouyant-but-still-edible garlic knot.
Ha, I believe you share the same vision as our member Corey Mintz, who talks about the day we can afford a pizza pool party where the pool is filled with dripping cheese. Right now, we’re focused on the book and making sure we do justice to the people and places represented in our project. In terms of a documentary, it’s something we’ve been mulling for a while now and hope to make happen down the line. We know this content will translate well onto film.
What are some underrated places? Any overrated?
There are plenty of underrated places. Ask any New Yorker about their favorite neighborhood pizzeria, chances are you’ve never heard of it. Often times, the best slice is the slice that’s served closest to home. It’s comfort food. Papa John’s, Domino’s, and Pizza Hut are overrated.
How many pizzerias do you plan to cover in total?
Honestly, we’ve sort of lost count at this point. We’re over 100 now. In a perfect world, we’d hit them all.
Kickstarter projects occasionally hit delays because of ambitious goals. You’ve been to over 100 pizzerias, but MenuPages lists over 1,800 restaurants serving pizza. What’s the criteria for a place to be covered, other than not being a national chain?
Our only one true criteria is that has to serve slices. That 1,800 number from MenuPages includes whole-pie restaurants and places that serve other food. We don’t do that. We go to the straight up pizzerias. The way our process usually works is we look at a map of the city, see where we haven’t been yet, research what people are saying online, talk to anyone we may know who lives in the area and then map out a route and go. If a place along the way catches our eye, we’ll usually just stop in and see what’s what. Sometimes they’re too busy or don’t want us taking pictures, but for the most part, after you get past the initial skepticism, we find ourselves getting fed free pies and hearing family stories about how the place got started.
And so given the scope, how long do you anticipate this taking?
There are still a few places and neighborhoods we need to go to, but for the most part we have all the content we need to make this book. After the Kickstarter campaign ends in three weeks, we’re going to jump right into designing the book and preparing it for print. We’re aiming to have the first run ready by Holiday 2014.
Check the next page for photos from the upcoming book.