Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana

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Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, commonly known as Frank Pepe's or simply Pepe's (/ˈpɛpiz/), is a popular pizza restaurant in the Wooster Square neighborhood of New Haven, Connecticut, at 163 Wooster Street. Opened in 1925, it is one of the oldest and best known pizzerias in the United States.[1][2]

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana
Frank Pepe on Wooster Street in New Haven
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Restaurant information
Established1925; 99 years ago (1925)
Owner(s)Frank Pepe's Grandchildren
Food typeNew Haven-style pizza
Dress codeCasual
Street address157 & 163 Wooster Street
CityNew Haven
StateConnecticut
Postal/ZIP Code06511-5709
CountryUnited States
Coordinates41°18′10″N 72°55′01″W / 41.302907°N 72.916933°W / 41.302907; -72.916933
Seating capacity147 at Main Building, 69 at The Spot
ReservationsNot taken
WebsitePepesPizzeria.com

Frank Pepe

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Frank Pepe (April 15, 1893 – September 6, 1969) was born in Maiori, Italy,[3] and immigrated to New Haven in 1909 when he was a teenager. He worked alongside other Italian Immigrants in Wooster Square in local factories, such as Sargent & Co., a manufacturer of locks and hardware.[4]

During World War I, Pepe returned to Italy to fight for his native country.[5] He was honorably discharged from the Italian Army on February 25, 1919. On September 27, 1919, he married Filomena Volpi, who is also from Maiori, Italy.[6] They left Italy for New York before Christmas 1919, and arrived in New York just after the new year in 1920.

Restaurant history

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After arriving in New York in 1920, the newly married Pepe's returned to Wooster Square.[7] Frank began working at a Wooster Street bakery.[8] He was known for walking through the Wooster Square market selling his "tomato pies" off of a special headdress. After saving enough money, he was able to buy a wagon from which he sold his pizzas.[9]

Pepe's continued success selling pizzas in the area convinced him and his wife to open their own restaurant. Frank and Filomena established "Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana" on June 16, 1925, at 163 Wooster Street (which is now known as "The Spot.")[10]

Pepe's originated the New Haven-style thin-crust apizza[11][12][13] (closely related to Neapolitan-style Italian pizza) which he baked in a coal-fired brick pizza oven.

At first, Frank Pepe only made two varieties of pizza, and only offered two sizes.[10] The "tomato pie" (tomatoes with grated pecorino romano cheese, garlic, oregano, and olive oil) and the other with the addition of anchovy.[14] Because refrigeration was limited in the 1920s, Pepe's did not initially offer mozzarella cheese on their pizza.

The Boccamiello family initially owned the building at 163 Wooster Street. In the mid-1930s, they forced Frank Pepe out of the building. Soon after, they renamed the building "The Spot" and began selling their own pizzas out of the establishment.[10]

Frank Pepe purchased the building next door to "The Spot" at 157 Wooster Street, He moved his restaurant to its current location next door in 1936. At that time, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana had the largest number of seats of any restaurant in the United States.[10]

Pepe and his family lived in the apartments above the building and made the pizzeria the center of their entire lives. Frank (who was illiterate) was responsible for starting the fire for the coal-fired oven every morning, while Filomena handled the accounting and the business. Other family members were involved in the business, including Pepe's younger sister Rachel Colonna, daughters Elizabeth and Serafina, and son-in-law Ralph Rosselli.[10]

Frank Pepe passed away in 1969. His two daughters took over the ownership and operation of the pizzeria. Like their parents, Elizabeth and Serafina made running the restaurant the center of their lives. They often brought their children to work with them, who would often take up the necessary tasks of operating a restaurant, such as dishwashing or cleaning the metal trays the pizzas are served on.

Elizabeth and Serafina bought back The Spot from the Boccamiello family in 1977.[4] After renovating the building, the Pepe family re-opened "The Spot" back up to the public in 1981. "The Spot" serves the same menu as the location next door, and contains the original 1925 oven that Frank Pepe established his pizzeria with.[5]

Pepe's daughters ran the daily operations of the pizzeria for decades before transferring ownership to their seven children, all of whom had experience working in various roles at the restaurant. Frank and Filomena's grandchildren are the current co-owners of restaurant, which began expanding in the 21st century.

Since opening a Fairfield, Connecticut location in 2006, Pepe's has expanded to sixteen locations in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, and Florida.[15] A seventeenth location is slated to open in Stamford, Connecticut during Summer 2024.

Pepe's is a major tourist attraction in New Haven.[16]

Ovens

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All Pepe's ovens are coal-fired and built in exactly the same manner from brick, based on the original. They measure 14 feet (4.3 m) by 14 feet (4.3 m) and cook pizzas in approximately 8 to 10 minutes.[17] The oven bakes pizzas at 650 °F (343 °C), but the temperature of the coals can exceed 1,000 °F (538 °C).[18]

Those who "work" the oven at Frank Pepe's are extensively trained. According to Ralph Rosselli, husband of Elizabeth Pepe and pizzaiolo at the restaurant, “There are hot and cold spots in the oven. The heat isn’t uniform. You need experienced workers to rotate the pizzas so they cook properly."[10]

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A white clam pie from Pepe's
 
A red pie with bacon and spinach

All of Pepe's locations feature the same menu.[19]

Since 1925, Pepe's has exclusively served Foxon Park bottled sodas from East Haven, Connecticut. The restaurant also offers fountain soda, beer, and wine. Since Pepe's established itself with a two-product menu (using ingredients that did not require refrigeration in 1925), mozzarella is considered a topping.

Salads and desserts are offered on the menu, but Pepe's does not serve appetizers.

Boccamiello's nephew, Bear, would open clams and sell them on the half shell to passersby in the alleyway between The Spot and Pepe's.[5]

Pepe's restaurant began serving littleneck clams on the half shell at the bar. It was only a matter of time before he decided to put the clams on the pizza. The white clam pie is olive oil, oregano, grated cheese, chopped garlic, and fresh littleneck clams.[8] The restaurant will serve the pizza with or without mozzarella cheese, but they try to discourage customers from ordering it with mozzarella because they feel that it makes the pizza too heavy and rich.

Pizzamakers at Pepe's are adamant on using freshly shucked clams instead of canned clams; if fresh clams are not available, they will not serve the white clam pie. As of 2024, there is one worker who shucks all clams at the original location. He has been doing so since the 1990s.

Since its invention, the white clam pie has become the signature pizza of pizzerias in New Haven.

Locations

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Pepe's has expanded outside of New Haven as a small family-owned chain. Frank Pepe's grandchildren are co-owners of the chain, including Gary Bimonte (1959–2021)[20][21] and Francis Rosselli.

All locations feature the same green and white design of their building and fixtures, a replica of the coal-fired oven, serve on the square pizza pans, and use the same suppliers for their ingredients.

Additionally, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana serves slices out of the Mohegan Sun Arena when there are events.

The Spot

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Also known as 163 Wooster Street, The Spot is where Frank Pepe's original 1925 oven is. The Spot operates on limited hours with the same menu as 157 Wooster Street. Often, The Spot has shorter lines than the main Frank Pepe building.

Competition

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Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana is also well known for its friendly rivalry with another Wooster Street pizza restaurant, Sally's Apizza. Sally's was founded by Pepe's nephew Sal Consiglio in 1938. The rivalry dates back decades and pizza fans are divided over which serves the better pizza.[22][23] Frank Sinatra, for example, was a fan of Sally's, while Ronald Reagan preferred Pepe's.[24]

Several other celebrities that have declared their loyalty to Pepe's include: Paul Giamatti, Henry Winkler, Lyle Lovett, Steve Schirripa, Alex Guarnaschelli, David Chang, Bobby Flay, and others.

Pepe's is a popular destination for celebrities, who often stop by to dine when visiting or passing through New Haven including Paul McCartney, Ray Allen, Vince Vaughn, Tobey McGuire, Ron Howard, Bill Murray, Caroline Kennedy, Danny DeVito, Robert Duvall and Meryl Streep.

Awards and Accolades

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  • 1999: Pepe's was named to the James Beard Foundation's list of "America's Classics".[25]
  • 2006: Pepe's is acknowledged on the History Channel's American Eats show as the originator of New Haven-style pizza in 1925.[26]
  • 2009: Pepe's was named the "Best Pizza on Earth" by The Guardian.[27]
  • 2009: Alan Richman, food correspondent for GQ magazine, names the tomato pizza at Pepe's the twelfth best pizza in the country in the May issue.[28]
  • 2009: Connecticut Magazine named Pepe's the best in the state.[29]
  • 2010: Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana was inducted into that Connecticut Hospitality Hall of Fame on December 7, 2010.[30]
  • 2013: Zagat said that the white clam pizza at Pepe's was the best pizza in the state, in an article naming the best pizza in each state.[31]
  • 2013: The website The Daily Meal named the white clam pizza at Pepe's the best pizza in the country.[32]
  • 2014: The Daily Meal named the white clam pizza at Pepe's the best pizza in the country for the second year in a row.[33]
  • 2015: "America's Best Pizzas" by Food & Wine Magazine
  • 2017: "Best Pizzerias in America" by Food Network
  • 2018: "Best Pizza in the Northeast" by USA Today
  • 2019: "The 101 Best Pizzas in America" by The Daily Meal
  • 2020: "America's 25 Best Pizzerias" by The Daily Meal
  • 2021: "America's 25 Best Pizzas" by The Daily Meal
  • 2023: "Best Pizza Restaurants in the USA" by Gayot
  • 2023: "28 Best Pizzas in the United States" by Food & Wine
  • 2023: Yonkers, NY location added to the New York Michelin Guide

Documentary

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Pepe's is one of three pizza restaurants featured in the documentary film Pizza A Love Story, directed by Gorman Bechard. The film had its world premiere at IFFBoston in April 2019.[34] The film was released on DVD and pay-per-view on September 29, 2020.[35]

See also

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References

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  1. ^ Levine, Ed. (2006-02-16) A Slice of Heaven: American Pizza Timeline | Slice Pizza Blog Archived 2007-11-09 at the Wayback Machine. Slice.seriouseats.com. Retrieved on 2010-12-13.
  2. ^ Mariani, John (2010-11-24). "America's Great Historic Restaurants". Forbes. Archived from the original on 2017-09-08. Retrieved 2017-08-28.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Retrieved 2024-04-16.
  4. ^ a b Interview with Francis Rosselli, September 2023
  5. ^ a b c Ed Levine (2005). Pizza: A Slice of Heaven. Universe Publishing, ISBN 0-7893-1205-0
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Retrieved 2024-04-16.
  7. ^ Francisco Pepe, New Haven Ward 5, New Haven, Connecticut, United States; citing ED 337, sheet 9A, line 45, family 170, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), roll 192; FHL microfilm 1,820,192.
  8. ^ a b Penny Pollack & Jeff Ruby (2005). Everybody Loves Pizza. Clerisy Press
  9. ^ Anthony Riccio (2006). The Italian-American Experience in New Haven. State University of New York Press
  10. ^ a b c d e f "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2024-05-13. Retrieved 2024-05-13.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ Welcome to The Original Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana – Home Archived 2010-07-26 at the Wayback Machine. Pepespizzeria.com (1969-09-06). Retrieved on 2010-12-13.
  12. ^ Stern, Jane; Stern, Michael (2005-04-12). Roadfood: The Coast-To-Coast Guide to 500 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster Shacks, Ice Cream Parlors, Highway Diners, and Much, Much More. Broadway Books. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-7679-2264-7.
  13. ^ You say Sally's, I say Pepe'sWooster street legends deliver to die-hard crowds- The New Haven Register – Serving New Haven, Connecticut Archived 2012-08-19 at the Wayback Machine. Nhregister.com (2002-07-21). Retrieved on 2010-12-13.
  14. ^ "The Original Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana History". www.pepespizzeria.com. Archived from the original on 2016-03-13. Retrieved 2016-03-15.
  15. ^ "New Restaurants to Try This Week: Bocadoro, Frank Pepe Pizzeria, and Sipsip". Miami New Times. Archived from the original on 2022-10-31. Retrieved 2022-10-31.
  16. ^ Frommer's Exploring America by RV, 4th Edition. ISBN 0-470-03885-3
  17. ^ Frank Pepe's pizza comes to Yonkers | Metromix Hudson Valley Archived 2009-12-01 at the Wayback Machine. Hudsonvalley.metromix.com (2009-11-24). Retrieved on 2010-12-13.
  18. ^ Fox, Geoff (21 November 2010). "Pizza With A Side Of Guilt". Archived from the original on 3 January 2019. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  19. ^ Welcome to The Original Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana – Menus Archived 2009-07-01 at the Wayback Machine. Pepespizzeria.com. Retrieved on 2010-12-13.
  20. ^ Arnott, Christopher (April 8, 2021). "Gary Bimonte, the face of Pepe's Pizza for a generation, dies". Hartford Courant. Retrieved 2021-04-19.
  21. ^ "Gary Joseph Bimonte Obituary – Visitation & Funeral Information". www.iovanne.com. Archived from the original on 2021-04-19. Retrieved 2021-04-19.
  22. ^ Reinhart, Peter (2003). American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza. ISBN 1-58008-422-2
  23. ^ Shelton, Jim. You say Sally's, I say Pepe's Archived 2006-06-22 at the Wayback Machine New Haven Register,2002-07-21
  24. ^ "Hot slice of history to be served up in Fairfield – Food & Beverage". AllBusiness.com. Archived from the original on 2009-03-26. Retrieved 2008-05-23.
  25. ^ Welcome to the James Beard Foundation Archived June 1, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Jamesbeard.org (2010-07-04). Retrieved on 2010-12-13.
  26. ^ American Eats: Pizza, The History Channel, 29 June 2006
  27. ^ Fox, Killian (September 13, 2009). "The 50 best things to eat in the world, and where to eat them". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on August 24, 2013. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  28. ^ American Pie: Alan Richman Archived 2013-10-29 at the Wayback Machine. GQ (2009-10-13). Retrieved on 2010-12-13.
  29. ^ "Welcome to the City of New Haven Economic Development". Archived from the original on 2009-11-10. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  30. ^ (no headline)- The New Haven Register – Serving New Haven, Connecticut Archived 2012-09-13 at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ "50 States, 50 Pizzas". Zagat. September 24, 2013. Archived from the original on 23 October 2013. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
  32. ^ Bovino, Arthur. "101 Best Pizzas in America". The Daily Meal. Spanfeller Media Group, Inc. Archived from the original on 19 September 2015. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
  33. ^ "101 Best Pizzas in America". The Daily Meal. Archived from the original on 19 September 2015. Retrieved 4 September 2014.
  34. ^ "Pizza, A Love Story". IFFBoston. Archived from the original on 2019-05-20. Retrieved 2020-10-07.
  35. ^ ""Pizza" Party Planned For Parking Lot | New Haven Independent". www.newhavenindependent.org. 2020-09-24. Retrieved 2020-10-07.
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