Business

NY Pizza Maker Revisits His Italian Roots

Salvatore Polizzi took a break from his Bushwick Pizzeria to reconnect with his family's olive farm and revive traditions.

Brooklyn Pizzeria owner Salvatore Ploizzi revisited his family's farm in Sicily.
Dec. 27, 2017
By Joanne Drawbaugh
Brooklyn Pizzeria owner Salvatore Ploizzi revisited his family's farm in Sicily.

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When Brooklyn-born Tony’s Pizzeria opened its doors in 1975, it served a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ver­sion of Bushwick than it does today. Over the course of the establishment’s sto­ried exis­tence, the demo­graph­ics of the neigh­bor­hood have con­tin­u­ally shifted.

Family is all we have to keep us grounded in the chaos of every­day life.- Salvatore Polizzi, Tonys Pizzeria

The company’s staff has also changed, as the Italian couple who opened Tony’s doors even­tu­ally passed con­trol of the restau­rant down to their five chil­dren under the lead­er­ship of their second eldest son, Salvatore Polizzi.

Tony’s has man­aged to stay strong in a rapidly-evolv­ing Bushwick by adapt­ing to con­sumer tastes. While other New York pizze­rias might admirably stick to the basics, Tony’s offers inno­v­a­tive vari­a­tions to accom­mo­date cus­tomers with vary­ing pref­er­ences and dietary needs.

This culi­nary acumen, paired with cus­tomer ser­vice that con­tin­u­ally war­rants five-star Yelp reviews, has allowed the Bushwick restau­rant to stand apart from the hordes of Tony’s.

A Google search returns 70,000 results for ‘Tony’s Pizzeria’ but this one in Bushwick man­aged to grab the cov­eted tonyspizzeria.com domain. Under the aptly chosen handle “BestPizzeriaInBrooklyn,” the team at Tony’s has been taking advan­tage of social media to con­nect with their loyal cus­tomers.

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Still, Sal said he had longed for the old days of family tra­di­tions, espe­cially those derived from his Italian her­itage. He recounted mas­sive Sunday feasts of freshly made spaghetti with his rel­a­tives, making wine through the infa­mous stomp­ing method.

The #Beast broth­ers and #TeamTonys @bestpizzeriainbrooklyn return to #ThePolizziEstates in Italy 🙌 #LetsDoThis #ItalianAdventure #BiancoNeroExtraVirginOliveOil2017 #FamilyAboveAll #BellaItalia #RoadTrippingItaly Tony’s 2017 #Harvest at the #ThePolizziEstates in the heart of Italy gets rolling. Time to get to work!! Tony’s @bestpizzeriainbrooklyn #ArtisinalExtraVirginOliveOil #ExtraVirginOliveOil #BiancoNeroEVOO #BiancoNeroExtraVirginOliveOil #TonysOliveOil #Tonys #TonysPizza #TonysPizzeriaAndRestaurant #Italy #Sicily #brook­lyn #BestPizzeriaInBrooklyn #bush­wick #ForzaFamigliaPolizzi #ThePolizziBrothers #BoysOfBrooklyn #40YearsInTheMaking @antpolizzi @bestpizzeriainbrooklyn @andrewpolizzinyc @sbp1107 @justjacko @polizzijoseph

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“The world didn’t revolve around us during those times but in those moments we all felt as if it did when family mat­tered above all else.”

“Before we knew it, those family gath­er­ings became a thing of the past. It wasn’t inten­tional but, rather, the given tra­jec­tory of the work ethic our immi­grant-natured fore­fa­thers instilled in us.”

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Now, in an effort to re-con­nect with his family’s rich his­tory, Sal has set out to pre­serve a cru­cial ele­ment of their her­itage: a close rela­tion­ship with milling olive oil.

Sal’s family hails from their Polizzi Estate in Sicily, the land that his grand­fa­ther Benedeto, a goat herder and dairy prod­uct ped­dler, once used in his work as a vacaro.

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Tony’s has pro­duced their own olive oil in very small batches over the past few years, giving bot­tles to friends and family, and using the oil in their own recipes. Sal said he learned about the pal­pa­ble dif­fer­ence that high-qual­ity oil can make in any recipe. “Olive oil is the base.”

With the suc­cess of his small-scale pro­duc­tion, Sal decided to move for­ward and grow his com­pa­ny’s foray into olive oil, and he’s taking his 900 Instagram fol­low­ers along for the ride.

#TeamTonys @bestpizzeriainbrooklyn return to #ThePolizziEstates in Italy. #LetsDoThis #ItalianAdventure #BiancoNeroExtraVirginOliveOil2017 #FamilyAboveAll #BellaItalia #RoadTrippingItaly Tony’s 2017 #Harvest at the #ThePolizziEstates in the heart of Italy gets rolling. Time to get to work!! Tony’s @bestpizzeriainbrooklyn #ArtisinalExtraVirginOliveOil #ExtraVirginOliveOil #BiancoNeroEVOO #BiancoNeroExtraVirginOliveOil #TonysOliveOil #Tonys #TonysPizza #TonysPizzeriaAndRestaurant #Italy #Sicily #brook­lyn #BestPizzeriaInBrooklyn #bush­wick #ForzaFamigliaPolizzi #ThePolizziBrothers #BoysOfBrooklyn #40YearsInTheMaking @antpolizzi @bestpizzeriainbrooklyn @andrewpolizzinyc @sbp1107 @justjacko @polizzijoseph @paceuniversity @paceualumni

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The Polizzi Estate is home to 3,800 olive trees, while the family buys more land to be annexed into the estate. Sal is work­ing to pre­pare the land for com­mer­cial use and in February he plans to plant an addi­tional 5,000 trees.

They use one of the area’s com­mu­nal mills where they gain insight from expert Italian pro­duc­ers who have been in the busi­ness for gen­er­a­tions.

The olive oil will ten­ta­tively be bot­tled under the brand name Bianco Nero, sym­bol­iz­ing the dichotomy of “night and day, black and white,” or what Sal describes with the char­ac­ter­is­tic con­fi­dence of a New Yorker as the dif­fer­ence in qual­ity between his prod­uct and other oils in the mar­ket­place.

While Bianco Nero will be sold in Tony’s Pizzeria and used in their recipes, Sal is also work­ing on dis­tri­b­u­tion through retail­ers from small Brooklyn bou­tiques to large organic chains.

Of course, taking on a project like reviv­ing the ances­tral farm is accom­pa­nied by a cer­tain level of ner­vous­ness, but Sal asserts that he has his family tra­di­tion back­ing them. He plans to mea­sure the company’s suc­cess in terms of cus­tomer hap­pi­ness.

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Above all though, he hopes his efforts will assert the impor­tance of tra­di­tion. “Much like the sacred vir­gin­ity of our extra virgin olive oil, the sacred nature of family is all we have in this world of untruths and mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tions.”

“Family is all we have to keep us grounded in the chaos of every­day life. In its purest form, our Bianco-Nero brand and its devel­op­ment is the living embod­i­ment of family and tra­di­tion and the belief we have in its strength and honor.“