These days, one of America’s most celebrated pizzaioli can be found sleeping on the floor. Sometimes in his business partner’s living room. Other times, on the same pizzeria floor he mops after service.
Anthony Mangieri of Una Pizza Napoletana never stopped making pizzas. Even when the country effectively shut down this spring. Even at a time when so many of his peers are reevaluating whether they still want to be cooking or running restaurants.
And even under such spartan conditions, his dedication to pizza making won’t come as a surprise to those who know him. For the past 30 years, he’s been described as “a perfectionist,” even christened the “Pizza Pope.” He is known for making nearly every single pie himself.
Sleeping on the floor with only a mat was born out of necessity: Mangieri, who lives in Manhattan, didn’t have a place to stay in New Jersey during the shutdown. But he says he’s grown to love that sleeping arrangement now.
Indeed, if anything, the pandemic has only strengthened the convictions of a man once described as “monkish” about self-reliance and never cutting corners in his eternal parallel quest for excellence and simplicity. While he hoped the pandemic might be a “reset of the checks and balances” for restaurants, he says he’s grateful he never stopped doing the blue-collar work. That he never stopped seeing the beauty, or the art, in making his pies.
“Knowing that when things went down, I could just be like, ‘Fine, I’ll sleep on the floor of the pizzeria and make pizzas all day; I don’t need anything else to get through’ — that reassured me of my stupid decision making of the last 25 years,” Mangieri says.
Those 25 years have been hectic — and transient, in that Mangieri’s reputation as a vagabond is almost as newsworthy as his pizza. Una Pizza has existed in many places: First in Point Pleasant, N.J. (1996 to 2004), then in New York’s East Village (2004- 2010), followed by San Francisco’s SoMa (2010-2017), and then New York, where it was rebooted on the Lower East Side in 2018.
And in the waning days of the Before Times, Mangieri returned to his Jersey roots, in a way: He officially opened a new pizzeria in Atlantic Highlands, N.J., on February 28, a year after he initially signed the lease. When dining rooms everywhere closed in mid-March, he closed the restaurant in Manhattan, and he remained at his new location, about a half-hour north of his original, making pizzas from 2 p.m. until the dough ran out, Fridays to Sundays.
The Manhattan location remains closed, but Mangieri promises it will reopen; he’s just not sure exactly when. The New Jersey location of Una Pizza Napoletana has never closed, and is still offering takeout every week. Mangieri had plans to open it up for on-site dining this fall, but current pandemic-related restrictions have delayed that. Still, it remains open, and every week, you will find Mangieri sleeping on a floor nearby.
This upcoming Saturday, Dec. 5, he’s hosting a pop-up with butcher and baker Angelo Competiello at the Atlantic Highlands spot. The menu includes a pizza topped with Competiello’s homemade porchetta, as well as a meatball parm pizza. All orders will come with a side of Competiello’s homemade mozzarella. In anticipation of the event, Mangieri and his cooks used Una Pizza’s Manhattan kitchen to bake special rainbow cookies, too.
Right before the shutdown, Mangieri admits, he was feeling burned out. Shuttling between the Una Pizza on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and his new project, then working the line in Manhattan after getting the Jersey location ready for opening made for exhausting 15-hour work days. It wasn’t sustainable.
But he and his business partner, Garry Borealo, a close friend he’s known since childhood, kept the lights on in Jersey. For Mangieri, there was no other choice. “What else am I going to do? I don’t see myself doing anything else.” It was a two-man operation for most of this year, until two staffers, Shane Hawley and Sean Frederickson, former pizzaiolos at Roberta’s, recently joined them.
Now, Mangieri works three days a week instead of seven. He is in no rush to go back to his pre-pandemic schedule. But he knows that will change soon.
This summer, he completed a successful buyout of the Manhattan Una Pizza from his former partners, Contra founders Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske Valtierra. The partnership made for an interesting, if odd, combination and was met with mixed reviews: Some critics felt the avant-garde approach the Contra team took to their part of the menu competed with Mangieri’s classic Neapolitan pies.
The buyout hasn’t been without its difficulties: At one point, Mangieri says he owed $90,000 in rent to his landlord. He now has a new set of investors for the Manhattan restaurant but, with the pandemic, they were skittish about moving forward. Eventually, everything worked out; he’s also on good terms with his landlord in Manhattan — a rarity among New York restaurants these days.
Now, he has plans to reopen the space, at 175 Orchard St. and finally make it all his own. A reopening date is still being determined, but Mangieri is already planning a collaboration with ice cream maker Morgenstern’s as well as other pop-ups.
“New Jersey has been amazing and it has been such a gift, but I also know that once New York opens, it’s going to be something that demands a certain level from me that I have to give it, if and when that happens,” he says.
This news is likely a comfort for many, New York Times critic Pete Wells included, who feared Mangieri might close up shop in Manhattan permanently for New Jersey.
True to character, however, it’s not a certainty that Mangieri will remain in New York or even in New Jersey: “I might even end up back in California,” he says, just the sort of speculative Mangieri-style comment that sends pizza geeks into a frenzy.
That said, being back in his home state this year has been a balm. “It’s where I feel at home.”
At the newest Una Pizza, which is only a 40-minute drive from the very first location, he has reconnected with some of his oldest customers, including former patrons of his bakery, Sant Arsenio, which he opened in Red Bank, N.J., back in 1993. That was when he was in his 20s, didn’t have a car, and his mother dropped him off and picked him up each day. At one point this summer, as a thank-you to the faithful, Mangieri and Borealo organized a gathering at one of his favorite ice-cream places, Jersey Freeze in Freehold, where they treated customers to soft-serve in the parking lot. (Mangieri is partial to the banana, black raspberry, and orange and vanilla swirl flavors.)
He relishes mountain biking in the hills nearby the pizzeria. He loves taking his daughter, Apollonia, to the shop on Sundays, and then being able to spend time with her at home in the city, even as she contends with the torment of online schooling.
And he’s aware that going back to running two pizzerias in two different states, and avoiding another burnout, will be a challenge. He wants to make it sustainable, to make time for his family — one of the primary reasons why he moved back East — but he also doesn’t want the quality of his product to suffer.
“It’s almost like when people come in, it’s like they’re buying into you and a piece of you and your soul,” he says. “And I just think food tastes so much better when it’s done with love and with truth, that I don’t want to do anything that isn’t going to follow along with that.
“Whatever is open,” he promises, “I want it to be the best in me and the best I can give people. Really, that’s all you can do.”