Dad and Son Spend Big Dough on Family Owned Trattoria
By Steve Viuker
The Upper East Side of Manhattan can be a retail dream. Families and singles with money to spend. But the small shop now has to compete with the chain stores.
Toscano’s (formerly Totonno’s) is one example. For this newly opened, family-owned restaurant the challenge isn’t just about standing out amongst the chain store offerings but differentiating itself in a sea of pizza that is all around the E.80th street location; from the small shops to Papa John’s. Nearby are the online take-out sites and a recent trend: shops selling pizza for 99 cents a slice. Pizza has always been a staple of New York neighborhoods. And while chains like Domino’s now are pushing ‘artisanal’ pies, there is still room for the old masters.
Making room for himself in this affluent neighborhood was the goal of co-owner Benny Nrecaj, a former Lehman Brothers employee who wanted to tap into the mix of young families and singles and offer a unique and appealing menu at prices that are very moderate for the Upper East Side. He was interested in offering the neighborhood something familiar, pizza, in a back to the basics way. He remarks on his competition, “It’s amazing when I see how many uninformed consumers are out there, all of these 99cents slice joints are opening up all around the city and people have no clue what ingredients are thrown into that pizza to be able to be sold for 99 cents. This bothers me because cheap flours, tomatoes and cheeses lead to obesity and other health issues. Pizza is not meant to be a “Junk Food ” item, it definitely gives you health benefits, when done right, I can attest that I have lost weight and eat pizza almost daily.”
Nrecaj and his father Andre have been laser focused on developing the right menu and creating an inviting atmosphere. He explains, “My dad has decades in the pizza industry. We spent over $300,000 upgrading the space and adding new items normally not found in a ‘pizza’ shop.” The major lure for this father and son team was a coal burning oven that reaches temperatures of 800 to 900 degrees. Andre notes, “Very few are left. This was one. I know from my years of pizza making it is the best method; this gives a nice char to the crust and melts the fresh mozzarella evenly.”
Benny learned about the best pizza making method by watching and learning. He explains, “Consistency in our business is huge. I grew up with my Dad taking me to his various shops and showing me how to make great pizza. And when I left Lehman, Continue Reading…