Entrance to Patsy's Pizzeria
|Current owner(s)||Frank Brija|
|Previous owner(s)||Pasquale "Patsy" Lancieri|
|Food type||Italian pizzeria|
|Street address||2287 1st Avenue and East 117th Street in East Harlem|
|City||New York City|
|Other locations||12 locations in New York, and counting|
|Other information||Franchise owned by Frank Brija|
Patsy's Pizzeria was founded in what used to be the predominantly Italian neighborhood of East Harlem in 1933 by Pasquale "Patsy" Lanceri. When it opened it was one of New York's earliest pizzerias along with Lombardi's, Totonno's and John's. Patsy's claims to have originated the idea of selling pizza by the slice. Lancieri is said to have learned his craft at Lombardi's brick-walled coal oven. New York's pizza dynasties are now in their third and fourth generations, and counting. And in its neighborhood of Spanish Harlem (which at the time the restaurants were started was known as Italian Harlem), two restaurants "vie for the title of El Barrio's best bite": Patsy's Pizzeria "where — so they say — the archetypal thin-crust New York pizza was first invented" and nearby Rao's, which was run by legendary restaurateur/ Sopranos actor Frank Pellegrino until his death in 2017.
Patsy's Pizzeria was sold and expanded after its founder's death to Frank Brija, an Albanian from Kosovo, who bought the pizzeria from its founder's widow in 1991. Brija, the current owner of the East Harlem Patsy's Pizzeria, trademarked the name and in 1995 opened Patsy's Pizzeria franchise at 509 Third Avenue, near 34th Street. Tsoulos, "a member of a Greek pizza-making clan in Queens", and his partners opened four more franchise locations in Manhattan.
Dispute over Patsy's name
The original Patsy died in the 1970s and his widow sold the East Harlem pizzeria to longtime employees in 1991, "to the chagrin of Patsy Grimaldi, her nephew, who opened a Patsy's in Brooklyn in 1990". The feuding deepened when Frank Brija began expanding his Patsy's Pizzeria franchise in Manhattan, and Patsy Grimaldi changed the name of his pizzeria to Grimaldi's Pizzeria, which the New York Times said is the best and truest to the original.
In 2009, there was a legal battle with Patsy's Restaurant on West 56th Street, founded by Pasquale (Patsy) Scognamillo in 1944 and a haven for Frank Sinatra and many celebrities, and Patsy's Pizzeria which was sold to Frank Brija in 1991.
Renaissance of pizza
A story from The New York Times reported in 1998 that, before the "pizza renaissance" of the 1990s, "the classic pizza was on the endangered list, treasured as an artifact of old New York but bypassed by a culture that preferred its pizzas fast, cheap and delivered." The tradition was kept alive by "just a few pizza landmarks, most famously John's Pizzeria on Bleecker Street, Patsy's Pizza in East Harlem and Totonno's Pizzeria Napolitano in Coney Island ... [who] zealously preserved the traditions." Environmental regulations made it hard to build new coal ovens because they could only be rebuilt or replaced under an environmental grandfather clause, "not installed from scratch." According to The New York Times, "Pizza makers have become architectural historians, seeking out spaces that once housed a coal-burning oven, like old bakeries or restaurants".
- Irving DeJohn (2013-04-02). "Patsy's Pizzeria opening first outer-borough location in Queens". NY Daily News. Retrieved 2015-09-11.
- John Marzulli Patsy's feud continues with heart of matter of name July 6, 2009 Daily News
- "104 Years of Pizza in New York". NYMag. 2009-07-13. Retrieved 2015-09-12.
- Galen Moore (October 15, 2003). "An enticing slice of New York: In a city known for its coal-fired pies, pizzerias are keeping the tradition alive". The Boston Globe.
- Eric Asimov New York Pizza, the Real Thing, Makes a Comeback June 10, 1998 New York Times
- Thomas, Amelia (August 11, 2008). "A taste of Spanish Harlem". Chron.com. Retrieved July 20, 2009.
- Leslie Eaton The Patsy's Connection; Two Competing Pasta Sauces Share a Name and a Trademark Lawsuit February 1, 2000 New York Times
- Clear sign they're still fighting July 7, 2009 Daily News
- Anthony M. Destefano Restaurant winner in battle of the Patsys April 11, 2008 Newsday