These days, one of America’s most celebrated pizzaioli is no longer sleeping on the floor somewhere in New Jersey, something he did for much of last year.
Instead, Anthony Mangieri is gearing up to reopen Una Pizza Napoletana on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. That means he spends his days doing tiling and construction work, while waiting on city permits — doing whatever he can to get the space ready to welcome faithful diners once more.
The three-year-old restaurant, the fourth iteration of Una Pizza Napoletana since the original, which opened in Point Pleasant, N.J., in 1996, has been closed since March 2020. It makes a long-awaited return sometime next month.
The reopening of Una Pizza, at least the New York location, wasn’t always a guarantee. At one point, just before everything shut down in March, Mangieri had opened his fifth iteration of Una Pizza in Atlantic Highlands, N.J. with the intention of closing his Manhattan location and moving to New Jersey full time.
But things changed when the pandemic struck. From March 2020 until early September of this year, he worked three days a week out of the Atlantic Highlands location, all the while pondering how sustainable it would be for him to operate two restaurants in two different states.
At one point, he bought out his Manhattan investors, and now he is the sole owner of the Orchard Street location. Last year, Mangieri said he’d reopen in New York but also, that he wasn’t leaving Jersey anytime soon. Well, in early September, he actually did leave New Jersey, deciding to close the Jersey location of Una Pizza, and to devote his full attention to the New York restaurant.
We recently caught up with Mangieri to ask him about his decision to close the Atlantic Highlands location, what it’s been like to reopen in Manhattan, and what’s he looking forward to.
Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Resy: How have things been since we last spoke in December of last year?
Anthony Mangieri: It’s been good. I can’t complain. I mean, we had a great run in New Jersey. We ended up really being so lucky, we pretty much sold out every day that we were opened down there from the beginning, right up into our last weekend open.
The last couple of months we were open there, I started to try to figure out the next step in the plan. And I knew that I had to reopen New York City. I just decided, my daughter is in New York, and I’m with her half the week, so I wanted to be able to continue to be a part of her life. Everything kind of added up so that it made sense to just focus on New York.
And like I said, it was great. We were sold out right up until the last day, and we’ve been rebuilding the inside of the New York location a little bit over the last six months. It looks amazing. I’m in here right now. It’s like I was saying to the guys yesterday, when I come in now, it’s like I want to keep doing more to it. But it looks so great.
Everything we did looks like how the place should have been. I think people, as customers, when they come in, you know, they can really feel the truth in a place when they come in and know if it’s legitimate or if it’s not, and I think the New York location, it needed some tweaks to really feel like Una, and now I think it does.
What kinds of tweaks?
I’m a ceramic tile fanatic. I love ceramic tile; I have my whole life, so we just we made it more clubby-looking. We got old-school chairs with the leather padding, with the rivets. We got dark wood tables. We ripped out the small plate station. And we used the marble wraparound that was there to make this really awesome, slightly raised-up little VIP booth. It’s so cool; it can fit six people. We ran ceramic tile a little higher than waist-high around the entire restaurant and all back behind the pizza station. It all looks kind of together now where before there was a lot of just white. The space was very stark before and felt very cold. We also redid the bathroom. The bathroom is so beautiful with this amazing green tile in there. It looks awesome.
The last time we spoke, you talked about whether you could sustain keeping both the New Jersey and Manhattan locations of Una Pizza open. Was it bittersweet to have to close the Jersey location?
It was definitely bittersweet. I mean, I’m from New Jersey. It’s home. I love being down there. My friends are all there. It was beautiful being there. But you know, I really believe in progressing, even if maybe to some people it seems like we never progress because we only make four kinds of pizza. But to me, we’re progressing. Because even within those four pizzas, I want to keep making them better.
It’s the same thing with the business. I felt like now was the time. The New York location, I have a lot of responsibility to it. And it just seemed like it was right. My friend that I opened in New Jersey with is not a restaurateur. So when we opened it, originally, the plan was to close New York and move to New Jersey and have that spot, and just that would be my focus for however many years, or indefinitely or whatever, but that was going to be the focus. And then that changed as I was building it out.
And then I tried to wrap my head around the idea of having two locations. And I went with it. But you know, I mean, I never really had to live it for very long, because we opened the New Jersey one and three weeks later, the COVID shutdown happened.
So, I luckily only had to do it for three weeks. After a 25-year career, I ran two restaurants for three weeks. And I gotta tell you, I’m sure I would have found my groove. But you know, that year of building out that New Jersey location, I was working seven days a week and, not to complain — I mean, I’m very blessed — but it was pretty nuts. I was making dough in New York, going down to New Jersey, doing construction, and then coming back to New York and working service six nights a week. And then my day off on Sunday, I would be in New Jersey all day doing construction. And then I went right into opening where New Jersey was open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And then I’d be working in the New York restaurant Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.
So, you know, it was sustainable for a few weeks. But I’m 50; I don’t know how long I could have kept doing that. My concern has always been the same: you can always adapt and do stuff like that, but at what cost? And not only costs for your life and your freedom and your health and all that stuff, but also the quality of the product and what you’re giving to the space.
I have always been a really big believer that if people are coming in here to spend their money, I really feel like I should be here or at least as much as I can be, and really giving myself to the place. That’s just the way I operate.
Obviously, that’s not the only way you can do business because people have 20 restaurants, and they’re all great. It’s just me and my small brain as a way I operate.
Is your friend Garry Borealo who helped you open the Jersey location involved in the New York City location?
No, not really. I mean, he’ll be here with us a little bit because we want to still be together. I mean, he’s one of my best friends and I love him. But this place is a separate thing.
What was that final day in the New Jersey location like?
It was beautiful. So, we didn’t tell anyone on social media or on a broader scale at first. What we did is, at first, we said we were closing for summer break, because I was waiting to make sure that everything went through with it. We were telling all of our regular customers for the last two weeks, like “Hey, you know, it’s probably our last two weeks.”
Man, I’ve been so lucky. You know, we’re not that big and we don’t have that big of a following but the people who like what we do, really are so beautiful. I get emotional when I think of the things that people say or do. One of my friends brought a bouquet of flowers the last day for me. It was sad and exciting, that last day.
And we’re super excited, me and my guys [chefs Shane Hawley and Sean Frederickson], and we’re here [in New York City] now. They were down in New Jersey with me for the last year and worked those three days with me since last September. And they live in New York as well. So, you know, we’re all here now and we’re getting this place ready. It’s a new chapter.
A good friend of mine, he’s a really great ice cream maker, Nick Morgenstern of Morgenstern’s, he said something that’s stuck with me. He came down and visited us [in New Jersey] maybe two months ago one day, just to eat pizza and hang out. And he wrote me afterwards and was just like, “Man, there’s so much love in this place. You’ve got to make sure you bring this back to New York City, when you reopen. You got to bring this back, because there’s not a lot of this up here.”
And I think that ties to the idea of it being like where, I’m really here [in New York], and I’m really giving it. Even the aesthetics of the New York spot now really make it feel like when you walk in here, that this place is really like the truth. And it’s transparent.
We’re going to have very few items. We’re not having anything on the menu here, except pizza, and some olives. We’re not going to have small plates, we’re not going to have salad, nothing. We’re going to have pizza. And we’re going to have one housemade gelato and one housemade sorbetto that we make in the morning, and when we run out of it, we’re done for the day, and that’s it. All the wines will be from Campania. And a couple of beers, and that’s it.
We’re going back even back further into the way that we used to run it. Up until three years ago, that’s all we ever had on the menu. So, we’re going to go back to doing that. Just to focus. I just want everything in the place to be about the pizza. I hope people like it.
Will you do pop-ups in the Manhattan location like you did in New Jersey?
We’re going to do some collaborations, definitely. We’re going to do one with Don Angie and I’m sure we’ll do one with Nick from Morgenstern’s. There are a ton of places that we love in the New Jersey/ New York area, that I would love to do stuff with.
It’s inspiring when you have somebody else come in, and they bring their techniques and their mentality and their energy into the space that you’re in every day. It’s nice to experience that. We’re always jazzed up and even though it’s a lot of work, we’ve been lucky; they’ve all gone really well. And then afterwards, we’re super pumped, and we feel really proud of what we’re doing and that we get the opportunity to work with other talented people. It’s so fun.
I have to ask: Did you ever find a proper bed out there in New Jersey?
I did. I did find a proper bed. But it took a while.
In the past year, it looks like you traveled a bit and went back to Italy.
I’m working on a project on that I can’t really talk about yet. But it’ll be it’ll be very public in the new year. And it’s hopefully going to be, you know … I’m super, super proud of it. And it’s been two years in the making.
You’re in an upcoming documentary, too?
Yes, but it’s still sort of being put together. I think there’s more to be put into it as we progress over the next year or two. This project I’ve been working on for two years is really kind of like the last 25 years of my life coming together. So, hopefully it is beautiful.
And you’re on the show Billions, too, yes, with a recurring role?
It’s been going on for maybe two years or a year and a half. Well, I mean, maybe even more than that because they didn’t shoot for a year plus because of the pandemic. I think the last episode we were in just aired recently.
What’s it like being an actor?
I mean, I’m a terrible actor. So is everybody else that’s been on the show who’s not an actor. So, I didn’t feel so bad when I saw my stuff. And I was like, boy, do I seem like a terrible actor. But then I saw James Hetfield from Metallica on the show, and he was terrible. And I’m like, “Wow, that guy performs on stage in front of so many people, and even he can’t act.” So now I don’t feel so bad.
But yeah, I’ve heard some comments from people like, “Boy, you’re a terrible actor.” And I’m like, “I know that.” But those guys who write the show, David Levien and Brian Koppelman, are huge supporters of New York food and the culture around it. So they’ve featured lots of restaurants on there, like Peter Luger and Morgenstern’s. David Chang has been on it. What’s so beautiful is they use their ability to make this show and they use that to feature places that they love going to in real life. It’s pretty awesome.
Do you have an opening date for the New York location yet?
I would say it’s going to be in October. I bought out all the former investors here and the two partners I had with me when we opened here three years ago, so it’s mine now. But what that entailed is, I have to go through all the steps as if it’s like a brand-new restaurant. Even though it’s still the same owner on the back end, because when you change an LLC, you basically have to go through the process all over again. I have to get a brand-new Board of Health permit. I have to get reinspected. I have to get a new liquor license. I’m the same owner, the same chef, and now I’m the manager, too.
How do you feel? Are you at all nervous?
I’m not nervous. I’m just going to do what we do and do our best, and hope for the best. I mean, I will say, the neighborhood definitely, is not, you know, where it needs to be right now. In New York, you have a lot of pockets where some areas are kind of busy, and some areas aren’t. The city gets very quiet at night and there are areas where by 9 o’clock, it’s totally desolate.
We’re just going to try our best, you know, and we’re so committed to this space in this location, and the fact that we need to reopen here. So, you know, there’s no other option. I just hope people come out and support us and not only support us, but support all the other restaurants that are reopening or have been open and are trying to get through this.
You mentioned you’re going to be the manager. Will you still be making the pies every day like before, too?
Sean and Shane are with me, so it’s the three of us still making the pies.
I’m the manager but to be honest, we don’t really have an [official] manager. I think we might not even have a dishwasher, we’ve kind of decided, unless we find somebody great. My new plan right now is that basically everyone working here will take turns doing dishes in a rotation. So the servers and the bartender and all three of the pizza guys, me being one of them, will rotate. It depends on how big our staff is. Let’s say there are maybe eight people working the whole restaurant when we’re open. So one of those people will be in the back. And then we’ll just rotate.
When we reopen, I’m trying to see if there’s a way to condense the business and make it where we can make enough pizza and do it in four days. And then everyone will work there four days. And I’m trying to create an environment, which we kind of had in New Jersey, which you know, the guys Shane and Sean had never worked in before either, and they loved it. It was very different from the New York restaurant world, or any city restaurant, where there’s always this separation between the front of the house and the back of the house. You know, where the bartender says, “Oh, I’m the bartender; I’m not doing anything except stuff behind the bar.” That is not going to be the way this place runs.
It’s going to be like we’re all in it together. And the goal is to make the place be as beautiful as it can be front to back, side to side. You do whatever you need to do from as you’re walking through the restaurant, and everybody works together, and the tips are split evenly. Everything is about creating an environment where it’s transparent and you feel inspired and that you can feel like it’s your place and you’re proud to be here.
I really believe that if you live truthfully, and give yourself to whatever you’re doing, you’ll find a way to always survive. There’s always a way.
In New Jersey, it was just the four of us and it was just awesome. We were all taking turns to do everything, including serving, and people loved it. We were rocking it; we were actually selling more pizza every day down there than we ever sold in the Lower East Side where, at times, we’d have 15 people working at one time. Down there, in Jersey, we had four and we were doing a bigger volume.
So, obviously, the service down there [in Jersey] was a little on the sloppy side; I’m not the best server in the world, and neither are these guys. But like I was saying to the guys yesterday when we were cleaning, I mopped that entire restaurant and cleaned both bathrooms every single day for a year and a half. So I said, I don’t want to hear anybody complain if you’re working here and you’ve got to clean the bathroom. Because guess what, I’m the owner of the place, and I cleaned the bathrooms every night for a year and a half. My feeling is if you think you’re above that, then you just work somewhere else.
My whole career I’ve watched the guy in the kitchen coming in three hours before front of the house, and leaving an hour after the front of the house, and they’re making a quarter of the pay. It just doesn’t make sense. You’re not celebrating people’s skills, and you’re not making people feel empowered, or inspiring them. Shouldn’t it be that everybody’s together?
And that’s not to dump on the front of the house, either; being a great server is an incredible skill. But it shouldn’t be that either one is above the other, because they all need to work together as a team to make the restaurant be an amazing experience for the customer.
So that’s the plan. We’ll see if it works. So far, I’m not I’m not fully staffed yet, but I think that’s going to be a big factor when we’re doing the interviews with staff. The beautiful thing is, you can make good money; there’s going to be a lean staff, so the tips will be higher. But there’s no coming in, and then it’s slow, so you get cut, and go home early. There’s no standing around, kind of waiting for it to get busier. Everybody gets here at the same time. And we all leave together. We open together, and we leave together. That’s it.
I don’t know if this is all going to work. But that’s my plan. We’re pumped on it; we just need a few more people to join us.
You’ve always put a lot of emphasis on self-reliance. Given everything that’s happened these past two years, has that just further cemented your belief in being self reliant?
Totally. I mean, that’s how I kind of try to live my life in general outside of work.
Believe me, I’ve had plenty of, and still do have plenty of difficulties and struggles in life, as we all do. But I know that if you approach things with love, and really give it your all, I think you can always find a way to come out of it and have happiness. Because ultimately, I mean, what’s it all about? What’s the point of life, you know? Other than just doing what you love and treating people with love?
When it reopens, Una Pizza Napoletana will be open Thursdays through Saturdays starting at 5 p.m.