In the late 19th Century, when the Italian immigrants crossed the Ellis Island, as a souvenir from home they brought the recipe for a mouthwatering dish which instantly became popular (of course it became popular, it’s Pizza, for crying out loud). Peddlers, with a metal washtub of pizzas on their heads, walked up and down the streets selling pizzas slices for two cents. Today, there are approximately 61,269 pizzerias in the United States; Americans eat around 100 acres of Pizza each day, or 350 slices per second. Pizza is a $30 Billion industry in the States, and yet it all started with an Italian immigrant selling tomato pies to factory workers back in 1905.
In 1897, Genaro Lombardi opened a small grocery store in New York City’s Little Italy at 53½ Spring Street. The specialty of the store were his tomato pies, which were served wrapped in paper and tied with a string. Lombardi’s tomato pies were favorite among the factory workers around the area, who found this delicious dish to be a perfect cheap lunch.
In 1905, Genaro Lombardi received the license to open the to operate a pizzeria restaurant, and that is where Pizza was born in America. Although Lombardi was influenced by the pies of Naples, he was forced to adapt pizza to Americans. The wood-fired ovens and mozzarella di bufala were substituted with coal powered ovens and fior di latte, and so began the evolution of the American Pie.
It didn’t take long for Lombardi’s pizzeria be get packed with hungry customers, among which was the iconic Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, craving for something cheesy. Years later, Lombardi passed the business to his son George Lombardi who continued selling the simple dish to New Yorkers.
In 1984 the original Lombardi’s closed, but re-opened ten years later a block away at 32 Spring Street, run by Gennaro Lombardi III – Gennaro Lombardi’s grandson – and his childhood friend John Brescio. This change in location and ten-year hiatus surrendered the title of America’s oldest continuously operating pizzeria to Papa’s Tomato Pies in Trenton, New Jersey, which opened in 1912 and has sold pies without interruption since.
The relocated reopened Lombardi’s uses an 110-year old brick coal oven. The current owner of the pizzeria, John Brescio, said in one interview he was fixing the coal oven every year, as the heat from the oven is so intense that it burns the bricks away. For the 100th anniversary of Lombardi Pizzeria, there was a huge celebration, and entire pizza pies were sold for just 5 cents – the original 1905 price. The line in front of the pizzeria was so long that the owner called a band to entertain the people waiting to try their delicious pizza.