Looking for Pizza on the Lower East Side Manhattan?
I recently interviewed Steve (a/k/a The Clinton Pizza Guy), the owner of Clinton Square Pizza over the phone. Clinton Square Pizza is on the Lower East Side near Delancey Street and Seward Park Co-Op. I remember coming into his pizza store a few weeks after I moved into the Lower East Side. Here was this enthusiastic young guy smiling and greeting his customers by first name. He promptly reached out and introduced himself to those he has met for the first time.
When I first met Steve, I thought he had an angle going. I began to mellow when I tasted my first slice of his cheese pizza. I like my pizza cheesy and gooey with tomato sauce. Also, I noticed that he treats all his customers with love and respect.
Steve sees his shop as the neighborhood (community) pizzeria. He cares about his customers. He cares about the kids. He tries to give kids good advice. He loves to listen to everyone's stories.
The Idea Began in College
Clinton Square Pizza will be celebrating its 3rd anniversary in April 2017. Steve refers to it as original Bronx Italian pizza. Clinton Square Pizza is not a franchise nor is it affiliated with any other Square Pizza. Steve started the business himself right after college with financial help from his dad. Steve's dad used to have a pizza shop in the Bronx. Little Steve hung out there daily when he was young and loved the smell and everything that came from it.
After college, Steve didn't like to sit behind a desk. He liked to be on his feet. He told his dad of his pizza shop plan. His dad was retiring from another company and did not want to work as hard anymore. Steve took everything he learned from dad's pizza place and applied it to his business.
Paying His Dues
The toughest thing Steve went through when opening Clinton Square Pizza was getting used to the long hours. The pizzeria hours are very crazy no matter what. It took him awhile to get used to working 10 to 11 hours per day, six to seven days a week. "I didn't have any guide. My father said this was his thing - I'm not going to do this. You're going to take it over. Dad now covers for me one day a week on Sunday so I can have a life."
Finding good employees to trust took awhile. Lot of workers came and went. Guys were hired and let go in less than two weeks, others two months. It took me about a year to really find some people to trust. His current staff has been with him for a year. It took him over 1 year to find good employees.
Quality vs. Quantity
A lot of pizzerias nowadays are concerned with selling a lot of slices. They don't care about the quality.
Steve used his dad's pizza ingredients. His dad always emphasized quality over quantity. They put their all into every single slice.
We use the best ingredient in every single slice. We use the best cheese, the best sauce, our own ingredients, homemade. We make our own dough. Some places buy dough, we make our own dough so that makes our pizza more original.
Many of our customers said our pizza reminds them of when they were a little kid. The authentic style pizza. Now there are a lot of Domino's, and $1 pizza shops. We try to keep ours original.
Now that Steve knows more of the pizza craft. We picked Steve's mind on what he would do if he were to start over from day 1.
1. Make the menus sooner
2. Get Menu printed.
3. Send Menu out.
It took The Clinton Pizza Guy a few months to get the menu straight. Get them printed. Send them out. Business started to get better as soon as they did more deliveries.
When they started, they did 10 deliveries a week. Now, they do twenty (20) deliveries per day.
The Clinton Pizza Guy Advice for Newbie
Steve's advice for the toughest part of starting a pizzeria business in 2017:
There are so many pizzerias every couple of blocks. There are more competitors. A lot of people are getting used to the cheaper qualities so its harder for the good quality guys to survive in some cases. Why pay blah, blah, when I could get a cheap slice for a dollar. Some people care about the slice quality. Some people care about the price of the slice. Back then, everyone was original so all the prices were the same. Now, it's a lot of competing for the cheaper price.
Why Try Clinton Square Pizza
Here's the main reason Clinton Square Pizza is your first choice when choosing a pizza shop nearby.
They should try us first because there's not a lot of original recipes left. My dad was born in Italy. He's one of the original to come over here so I can guarantee that our pizza is one of the original pizza they can get. People always talk about where can we get a real NY pizza slice. Us, we'll definitely give that New York feeling. And I think that's what the other places lack.
Clinton Square Pizza number #1 way to bring in new customers is using menus and word of mouth. When a new customer comes around, The Clinton Pizza Guy will try to feel them out. He'll ask if they need pizza. He'll try to help them out. If there was a school around, he'll try to help the kids who shop here by giving them a discount.
The Internet hasn't made much of a dent in the pizza business. They do use Seamless and GrubHub, and keep up a good Yelp rating for reputation.
Here's what Steve said if he were to look 6 months to a year in his future of where his business would be.
I would like to try to get more deliveries, get more schools, get more accounts. I always try to grow it. Always keep the same product. Guaranteed to get that same good product, same good taste. A lot of places will get customers, then they'll cheapen their ingredients. Us, we stuck with the same in the beginning and I definitely want to keep it that way."
Steve plans to keep the same hours, as they get busier to hire more people. He only had one delivery guy in the beginning, now he has up to three.
This is what Steve had to say about what he loves most about his business:
The people. I think the people who come here are awesome. I am lucky enough to be in a neighborhood. A lot of pizza places are strictly tourist places. Someone will come in and get a slice and you'll never even see them again. Me, I see the same customers, I have a relationship with a lot of them. I like the spot in Manhattan I am in. It's a really nice neighborhood. It's developing a lot. Lots of cool stuff around. So I think it's definitely good for the neighborhood.
Steve is a big fan of sports and movies. He decorated the pizzeria with movie gangsta characters like Al Pacino in "The GodFather" movie.
A big part of culture is movies. I put pictures up on them. Online (i.e. Yelp) many of the reviews from people said they love the pictures in the place. who really doesn't love mob flicks. It's also a good topic for conversations. People come in and say who is a better actor.
What Motivates Him
As we got to the end of the interview, I wanted to find out what makes him tick. Here's what he had to say.
I majored in business and labor studies at Queens College, CUNY. I learned about unions. When I graduated, unions were at an all time low. I looked more into the business part of it. I learned the pizza business. I still enjoy playing baseball. I used to play college baseball. Pizza and baseball are two big things in my life.
In his spare time, he'll play baseball, watch movies, go around the city (rented bikes, driving around Manhattan), and time with family.
Wrap Up of Clinton Square Pizza Interview
We wrapped up the phone interview with Steve (a/k/a The Pizza Guy). He provided a special offer for readers of this website. I hope you take advantage of this special offer if you are ever in the area.
Clinton Square Pizza
201 Clinton St.
New York, NY 10002
Interviewer and Writer: Benson (a/k/a Brooklyn Local Review)
Proofread: Steve (a/k/a The Clinton Pizza Guy)
Additional thanks from friends such as Stacy and Ancil.
Images by: Steve (a/k/a The Clinton Pizza Guy)