We don’t often think about the history of our food while we’re stuffing our faces with it, but maybe we should. Pizza is one of the most quintessential parts of the New York City food scene. Getting a cheap “New York slice” at one of the beloved pizza joints is a rite of passage for every New Yorker. But how did it all start? Who gifted New York City with this delectable cuisine? Let’s take a trip down memory lane and explore the history of pizza in New York City.
Pizza was originally brought to the states by the Italians who immigrated through Ellis Island in the early part of the 20th century. The story of the very first pizzeria was one everyone thought they knew well. It was told that Gennaro Lombardi started selling slices out of a grocery store he owned at the address 53 ½ Spring street. Until recently it’s been collectively accepted that Lombardi’s Pizzeria, which opened in the same location as the grocery store, went on to become the first licenced pizzeria in the United States in 1905. Why then has a researcher by the name of Peter Regas stumbled upon evidence that suggests that Gennaro Lombardi was not truly the first one to start selling pizza at the address 53 Spring Street? Fueled by a passion for history, and probably pizza, Regas has unearthed a new story.
Regas’s research paints a picture of a man by the name of Fillipo Millone who records say first came to NYC in the late 19th century. Millone was actually the one who, in 1898 started selling pizza out of the address that would later become Lombardi’s. Now this doesn’t mean that Gennaro Lombardi was never involved in pizza’s early history. In fact some time after Millone got the ball rolling the pizzeria did end up in Lombardi’s hands. Scott Wiener, another historian focused on pizza, told Gothamist that Gennaro Lombardi did own the pizza place but not until the year 1908. Millone not only had a hand in the birth of Lombardi’s but also a few other now famous pizza haunts. John’s of Bleeker st, which is still going strong today and the now closed Brooklyn spot, Pop’s Pizza. The exact number of pizza places Millone had a hand in isn’t clear, but evidence points to him jumping from place to place bringing them the glorious gift of pizza, and then going on his merry way.
Sans a time machine we may never know if Millone was being intentional in spreading about his pizza pies, or if he was just a scrappy immigrant doing what he could to make a living. Fillipo Millone may have waited a while to get the recognition he deserves but better late than never, right?