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August 30, 2019

Buon Compleanno: Tony’s Pizza Napoletana Celebrates 10th Anniversary

by Joe Bonadio

Ten years. It’s a big milestone in the hospitality business, especially when you consider that most restaurants last about half that long. Times change and tastes change faster, so for any eatery to survive past the ten-year mark is no mean feat. For Tony’s Pizza Napoletana to remain as flourishing and relevant as it is, a decade down the line—it’s nothing less than remarkable.

Of course, frequent diners at Tony’s are anything but surprised. I remember my first visit, shortly after they opened up shop in 2009. They seated us at the big table below the window in the main dining room, and my group ordered a Margherita and a Sicilian pie. The Margherita was sheer perfection, the best I’d ever had; the Sicilian was puffy and crisp, with a thin stripe of balsamic vinegar that put it over the edge of greatness.

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Tony’s guests prepare to dig in to their slices at the recent 10-year celebration for Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. | Photo: Sarah Inloes

I was just there again last week, and I brought a good friend along. We sat at the bar, and ordered the East Coaster, a Classic American pie made with a rich meat sauce with pork, ground beef, and pancetta, and topped with sliced meatballs and ricotta. Does that sound intense? We thought so too—and trust me, it did not disappoint.

We also ordered the lasagna, a bold choice for two people. As always it was fantastic, the perfect balance of savory tomato, cheese, and tender pasta. This has been one of my favorite dishes since I was a child, and I’ll take this version over any other.

Tony’s is that rarest of birds in the restaurant business. The place truly just keeps getting better, and in July Tony’s set their all-time record for pizzas made in one night. Ten years in, and they’re still raising the bar.

Meanwhile, Tony has a lot planned for the big anniversary, and I sat down with him earlier this week for a few details.

Joe Bonadio: So, Tony’s just turned ten years old! I stopped by your event earlier this month.

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Tony presents the ‘Big Check’ for $3,500 to the SF-Marin Food Bank at our recent 10-year Anniversary benefit. | Photo: Sarah Inloes

Tony Gemignani: Yeah! You know, we are always trying to come up with different ideas, different fundraisers. For our five year anniversary, we held an event with the most people tossing pizza at once—a Guinness world record. And we raised some money for charity with that.

This year, I decided to do three different charitable events. For the one we did last week, I got together with Slice of SF, which is a guy that does pizza reviews on Instagram.

He came to me because it was his one-year anniversary, and he wanted to do something at my place. I told him I was actually looking for something to do for our ten year. I came up with the idea of a slice event, prepaid tickets, with everything going to the Marin-SF Food Bank.

How did it go?

It was tough! But it was great. It was on a much bigger scale than what the guy was thinking. He was pretty excited, but I don’t think he really understood the amount of work that goes into it. I had to pay all the help, because we really didn’t make any money on the event. We collected money for tickets, so that paid a portion of it.

We donated $3,500, and that ends up being 7,000 meals. I’ve worked with them in the past, and it was nice to know that we were able to do that.

Who was in the kitchen?

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Tony Gemignani and Laura Meyer show the telltale signs of an 18-hour day. | Photo: Sarah Inloes

I had Laura [Meyer] and chef Oscar [Venegas] come in. We did eight different slices: we had the New Yorker, the Purple Potato, The Detroit, the Grandma, The St. Louis, the Sausage & Stout, the Cal-Italia and the Di Lucca. How many is that? Eight.

We had about 70 people there. So we had to course it out, basically eight courses— which with pizza is kind of weird. I bought almost 700 plates for this event.

It sounds like a ton of work.

It was hard! I didn’t think it was going to be as tough as it was. It was almost three hours.

We had a vote on which pizza was the best: the New Yorker came in first, and the Detroit and Grandma tied for second. It was a celebration of pizza for a good cause, and everyone got to rank their favorite.

With lots of people taking photos of their slices.

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Tony Gemignani takes a break from the kitchen to pose for a snapshot with a pair of longtime regulars. | Photo: Sarah Inloes

Right, and hopefully, they’ll post it on Instagram or wherever. It was good. It was for a great cause, and we got a little marketing out of it.

You know, I taught that morning. I had a home chef course first thing in the morning. So I combo’d it. I said ‘Laura, let’s just get it out of the way.’ I was up at 4:40 that morning, and the event didn’t end until 11:00 that night. Everyone was saying ‘Let’s get a beer after.’ But I was done! I just wanted to sit down.

Everyone really seemed to enjoy it though, it was a good event. But I’m not doing that again! (laughter)

I understand you’ve got a couple of other events coming up for the anniversary.

Yes, we have two other fundraisers coming up. One will be with the Giants at Oracle Park, and that one is for George Mark Children’s House. The other thing we’re doing is with the artist Alex Bull in September, with the customized pizza boxes. That one’s in September, and it benefits Family House.*

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Natale prepares to bring another photogenic pie out to the hungry crowds at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. | Photo: Sarah Inloes

You can check out Alex Bull’s customized pizza boxes in the main dining room at Tony’s from now through September. And of course, we’ll be reporting back on these events as they get closer.

And in one final note, the Tony’s team recently had another birthday of note: Congratulations to bar manager Elmer Mejicanos on the birth of his daughter Delilah! Make sure to stop by and give him your regards. Nice job, Elmer.

*From now through September 30, for every ‘inspired’ pizza in the series that is ordered, $1 will be donated directly to Family House SF