Presented by Peter Regas
In the past, the historical consensus was the first licensed pizzeria in America was opened in 1905 at 53 Spring St. in New York City by a young Italian immigrant named Gennaro Lombardi. However, in 2019 at the U.S. Pizza Museum in Chicago, Peter Regas challenged that consensus with a talk titled “Filippo Milone and the Forgotten Pizza Makers of New York City.”
Based on more than ten years of archival research, Regas makes the following claims. There’s no primary source evidence a then eighteen-year-old Gennaro Lombardi owned a pizzeria in 1905. Instead, sources show Lombardi briefly owned the 53 Spring St. pizzeria in 1908, re-purchased it from a relative in 1918, and continued to own it until his death in 1958. More significantly, when Lombardi bought the pizzeria in 1908 it had already been a pizzeria for several years. The now-famous pizzeria was probably established in 1898 by a previously forgotten but extremely significant pizza maker named Filippo Milone. It turns out, the Spring Street pizzeria was probably just one of at least six different New York City pizzerias established by Milone between the years 1894-1922. Born in Piano di Sorrento in 1862, Milone is one of several previously unknown New York City pizza makers of an earlier generation who decided to emigrate around the turn of the century from Italy’s Campania region. Which pizza maker of that earlier generation opened up the first pizzeria in America? Regas discovered Giovanni Albano, a former pizzeria owner from Naples, established the first currently verified pizzeria in 1894 at 59 ½ Mulberry St. in New York City. While there is evidence of earlier pizzerias the farther back in time one searches the more circumstantial the evidence becomes and the more one is forced to confront the distinction between a peddler, a bakery, and a dedicated pizzeria.
In the upcoming presentation, Regas will also be presenting evidence of the first known pizzerias in Chicago. Tom Granato’s Pizzeria Napolitana established in 1924 at 907 W. Taylor St will be discussed along with many never-before-published Granato pizzeria photos. Long forgotten Chicago pizzerias in the 1930s and early 1940s will also be presented. Questions naturally flow when the historical record is revealed. Was there anyone before Granato? When did pizza become popular in Chicago? How and why was Chicago’s pizza history different than New York’s? Why were the taverns so dominant in Chicago’s pizza history? And finally what’s the deal with the tavern cut?
Note, Regas will not be presenting his discoveries on the origins of Pizzeria Uno and Chicago deep-dish pizza in this talk. That subject is complicated enough to need a presentation dedicated exclusively to deep-dish pizza which is currently scheduled with the Chicago Foodways Roundtable for Thursday, May 13, 2021.