Man on the Street: Why pizza?

Some folks are into football. Others are into baseball. Plenty are into NASCAR.

I’m into pizza. I know the players, their statistics, what gear they use and where they worked before being “traded” to another team … errr pizzeria. It’s an obsession that quietly crept into my life and took control over the past decade. I’m not Italian and my mother never made pizza when I was growing up, so how did I fall so deep into this saucy, cheesy world? It’s a question I get every day on account of my constant swooning over slices while conducting pizza tours in New York. Beyond simply being delicious, there are several intangible elements that earned pizza an elevated spot above all other foods in my heart.

I was hooked at a young age. Pizza’s communal nature makes it the ultimate food of choice for birthday parties — and I was never one to complain. I clearly remember the time my fifth-grade class was treated to a pizza party for performing well on a big test. Then there was Pizza Hut’s “Book It” program, which rewarded students with a free pizza for reaching a monthly reading goal. Pizza was always the centerpiece of a celebration, so my Pavlovian response to it obviously became one of joy.

Pizza parties were great, but my love grew stronger when the ability to get a pie was detached from its institutionalized format. The slice became my flag of independence because it was the first food I purchased with my own money. Kids are less likely to save the funds for a lobster dinner than they are to scrape together a few bucks mowing lawns for a slice and a Coke. It was the perfect meal for those sleepy Saturday afternoons, and that feeling stays with me every time I shake pepper flakes onto a fresh slice.

Childhood memories aside, my pizza obsession has stronger roots than mere nostalgia. You have to respect a dish that has remained relevant throughout the centuries by acting as a culinary unifier of all classes from street beggars to royalty. Since pizza has always been more of a genre than a specific dish, it is capable of evolving to fit the circumstances of any time and location by way of ingredients, toppings and portability.

Even within the food industry, pizza has always paved the way for today’s trends. The original pizzerias of Naples were local and organic before other options existed. Pizza was among the first foods to be delivered to customers’ homes, which led to great leaps in mobile food packaging. Hole-in-the-wall slice shops were the original open kitchens because there wasn’t enough room for separate BoH and FoH spaces, let alone the desire to pay two sets of staff. Pizzerias let guests “have it your way” before any national burger chains had a clue.

Maybe you got into the pizza industry because it’s your family business or perhaps it seemed like a smart financial opportunity. Just remember why you fell in love with that perfect slice in the first place.

Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.