Visiting New York pizzerias amid COVID19
It took a few weeks before I realized how much trouble NYC was in. I wasn’t watching the news and my social media usage was entirely devoted to putting out content to keep my audience (and myself) distracted. All that changed after about two dozen calls and texts from friends in the pizza business checking in on me. I had done such a good job ignoring reality that I had no idea New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic. Weeks have since passed and the Big Apple is finally waking back up so I’ve been cruising the streets on my trusty bicycle, checking in on the city’s pizzerias.
Everybody knows NYC’s pizza culture is centered around slice shops. These are the hole-in-the-wall places on just about every corner. It’s always been about take-out and delivery at slice shops, so most of them were able to continue service seamlessly throughout the lockdown. Reopening the city has meant more foot traffic since people are starting to trickle back to their daily commutes. The only difference is now customers are met with plexi shields, social distance spacing markers and signage reminding them to wear masks … but beyond that they’re operating with no major alterations.
Pizzerias with dining rooms are in a different situation. Without the ability to allow customers inside, many have converted their front windows into points of sale. Most of our restaurants let directly onto the sidewalk, so it’s possible to purchase items without veering off one’s route. Lots of pizzerias are offering a limited menu to cut down on ingredient inventory and some are even selling ingredients directly to customers. In my neighborhood, a wood-fired pizzeria with a huge dining room has turned into an open-air grocery store.
With relaxed rules for take-out and delivery alcohol, pizzerias are leaning on booze for support. Lombardi’s suddenly has frozen sangria and margaritas for those strolling around Soho, and Gnocco has frozen pina coladas in Alphabet City. The downside is that takeout alcohol attracts large crowds and that’s no good for safety. It’s one of the reasons the rules might snap back to normal, but I’m afraid of what will happen to restaurants that no longer have the revenue stream.
Pizzerias that weren’t able to pivot to takeout and delivery made use of the downtime. Greenwich Village institution Arturo’s repainted their facade and fixed their old coal-fired oven. Two blocks west, Song E Napule made good on a vow to replace an inherited wood-fired oven with a better one, plus they renovated the interior while they were at it. David Sheridan, owner of Wheated in Brooklyn, saw the writing on the wall and completely gutted his dining room. He replaced the tables and chairs with an expanded kitchen to make room for more food production as he expands his menu to better suit the situation.
I’m truly impressed by some of the creative maneuvers by pizzerias like Fornino, whose Brooklyn Bridge Park location takes all orders by mobile app and delivers food to tables on the ends of long pizza peels. Emily and Emmy Squared locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn have a QR code on their front door, leading directly to their online ordering platform. Wheated is managing their service flow by letting customers reserve pizza for a specific pickup time.
We all know that this is going to be incredibly difficult and some of our friends and colleagues aren’t going to make it out the other end, but we certainly don’t have to let that thought slow us down. In fact, it just might be the inspiration we need to speed things up.