Intense moments at a New York slice shop. [Photographs: Omar Qadir]
Remember when pizza wasn’t academic? Most of us entered the fray based solely on simplicity; not an “authentic” Pizza Margherita or anything with kale and green garlic, just a regular old slice that made us happy. There was no talk of fermentation time or rare tomato varieties, only a feeling of comfort within our souls. But the journey took a turn down a rabbit hole and we kept going, leaving every Spartan thought in the past. Every now and again there’s a moment of simplicity that refocuses everything, even if just for a brief time. That moment happened for me behind the counter at a slice shop across the street from Penn Station in Manhattan. For my third and final (for now) mission as an Undercover Pizza Lover, I spent the last week of April slinging slices at one of the busiest pizzerias in New York City.
NY Pizza Suprema is so obvious it may as well be invisible. (You can catch up on past Slice coverage of Suprema here.) The large red lettering outside the place is gaudy enough that locals often walk right by, writing it off as just another average slice shop. Its location across from Madison Square Garden/Penn Station positions Suprema in a culinary dead-zone. Then there’s the name—not even something boring-yet-personal like Joe’s or John’s—it’s about as anonymous as you can get. Employees wear khaki pants and striped shirts so stereotypically “New York pizza” that it must be a gimmick. But it’s not. Every Suprema employee has worn these shirts since the late 1960’s. It’s a statement about honor and integrity that owner Joe Riggio takes very seriously.
Yes, I did actually grow a mustache to fit in with the counter staff.
When I first stepped behind the business side of the counter, I felt an immediate sense of achievement. It was the realization of a dream I never knew I had. As a kid, I always admired the guys behind the pizza counter more than the ones making the pies. We had direct interaction and they were responsible for delivering the slice into my hands. It was strange to be in that position after spending so long on the other side, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The uniform gave me a sense of pride, as if I belonged to a group. I have to admit it was a bit of a power trip to have people lined up for something over which I had control, but I did my best to get everyone what they needed.
Thursday, June 9 was our annual Slice Out Hunger fundraiser in which we collect donations from NYC’s best pizzerias and sell slices for $1 each. All the money goes to feed the city’s homeless and hungry, with this year’s proceeds going to City Harvest. The event started in 2008 as a simple launch party for Scott’s Pizza Tours and has since blossomed into an animal all its own. This year we raised $5,000 for New York’s homeless with the help of 20 amazing pizzerias, a dozen amazing raffle prize donors, 25+ volunteers, and about 700 hungry pizza lovers.
Pizza started to arrive around 5:30, as I didn’t want to risk running low on slices mid-event. Last year we blew through 40 pies in 20 minutes and people had to wait in the rain before 25 backup pies arrived. This year’s pie count was at 182 the afternoon of the event, so my only fear was that we wouldn’t have enough people to eat all the pizza. I was totally wrong.
Excited pizza lovers waiting in line. (Photo by Liz Migliore)
Doors were scheduled to open at 6:30PM but the line started by 5:15 and the sky was threatening to burst open, so we started selling slice tickets to people waiting outside by 6:10 in an effort to assist the flow once doors opened. All pies were in position, plate distributors were at the ready, pizza servers were armed with spatulas — so we opened the doors at 6:20.
Amity Hall was completely mobbed within minutes. We quickly reached capacity for the building so the bouncer had to stop letting folks in until people left. Then the sky opened up and things got crazier. Our volunteer crew had the pizza under control so I ran outside to let everyone in line know why they weren’t moving. While we weren’t able to get anybody else inside, we did bring some pizza to the line so people could at least get a slice in their bellies.
Happy dude inside; me in freakout mode outside. (photos by Rosemary Zuppardo).
Enough people eventually left and the bar and we were able to get more pizza lovers inside. The scene was pretty crazy but everyone was certainly having a blast. We started calling names for raffle prizes and have away TONS of cool pizza stuff. There were pizza making classes, pizza t-shirts, bags of flour, travel vouchers from GAP Adventures, pizza tours in NYC and Chicago, pizza books, etc. It was incredible. We even raffled off some great photographs of our featured pizzerias, courtesy of the NY Pizza Project.
Our pizza donations were incredible this year and we are eternally grateful to all 20 pizzerias for being part of the event:Lombardi’s, NY Pizza Suprema, Luzzo’s, Pizza Box, Keste, John’s of Bleecker St, Artichoke, Slice, Joe’s Pizza, Famous Original Ray’s, 900 Degrees, Two Boots, Famous Ben’s, Difara, Tosca, Pizza Roma, Grimaldi’s, Arturo’s, Rizzo’s and Bleecker Street Pizza. By the end of the night, we had eaten over 1,500 slices and raffled off 30 prizes. The resulting $5,000 will help City Harvest rescue 21,121 pounds of food around NYC.
As much pizza as we had, it all disappeared into the bellies of hungry pizza lovers within one hour. Plans are already in motion to make next year’s event even bigger and better. To volunteer, please contact me at sliceouthunger[at]gmail[dot]com.
THANKS TO ALL WHO ATTENDED AND WE HOPE TO SEE YOU AGAIN NEXT YEAR!
Here’s a smattering of photos from Slice Out Hunger 2011…
Until the dough runs out… (photo by Adam Kuban)
Mark your calendars for the biggest, most awesome pizza party you’ve ever been to in your life. We’re collecting pizza from all the city’s top spots and selling it off for $1 per slice at a bar in Greenwich Village. All the money goes to City Harvest, NYC’s only food collection organization, so you’re helping others while feeding yourself.
Thursday, June 9
80 W 3rd Street (at Thompson)
6:30 - 10pm
Enjoy pizza from: Lombardi’s, DiFara, Grimaldi’s, Joe’s, John’s of Bleecker, Pizza Roma, Famous Ben’s, Slice, 900 Degrees, Two Boots, Luzzo’s, Artichoke, NY Pizza Suprema, Tosca, Pizza Box and MORE!!!
Raffle prizes from Serious Eats, Pizza a Casa, Coluccio & Sons, Chicago Pizza Tours, GAP Adventures, Trader Joe’s, NY Pizza Project, Busted Tees, Scott’s Pizza Tours, Real Pizza of NYC App plus your chance to win a pizza party for you and seven friends catered by Slice founder Adam Kuban!