Denino's first opened in 1937 as a soda fountain and confectionery on Richmond Avenue in Staten Island until my stepfather, Carlo Denino, added a bar and a pool table later that year, after Prohibition was repealed. Then, in 1951, he added pizza, and we've been doing that ever since.
The dough is special, and the crust is thin, crispy, and crunchy on the bottom. We don't overpower any one ingredient. People say, "There's not enough sauce; there's not enough cheese." But when you put too much of one thing, you can't taste the dough or the cheese or the sauce. My stepfather said to always keep it simple.
Our signature pie is called the "M.O.R. Pie"—it's meatballs, onions, and ricotta cheese. I just rolled out a new pie about four months ago called the "A Salute," which is topped with fresh mozzarella, ricotta, arugula, lemon dressing, and shaved reggiano parmesan. The first night we opened, about seven tables ordered that pie.
Before this location, we opened one on the Jersey Shore. Prior to that, I was a New York City fireman. At the new shops, we added pasta dishes to the new menus—we didn't want to alienate anyone. We've had tons of famous visitors come in Ron Perlman and Theo Rossi from Sons of Anarchy, SNL's Colin Jost, Dominique Easley of the Los Angeles Rams.
Inside, we tried to infuse a bit of history. On the far wall, there's a photograph of the 1937 store with my grandfather and two aunts. Next to it is the pizzeria, taken in 1980. Then beside that is my stepfather in 1947 tending bar—he had just gotten back from the Navy—along with an image of the Verrazano Bridge, which connects Staten Island to Manhattan.
The whole interior is a testament to the tradition of Denino's. I've been working here for 32 years. It's a family-run business—it always has been.
—As told to Claire Stern