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.

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… 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.

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 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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.“

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