Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Johnny's Pizza Faces Papa John's

Johnny's Pizza, a family-owned pizzeria in Brooklyn, will be getting a Papa John's restaurant for a next-door neighbor in December, as reported in this New York Times article.

I read about this on Monday, in New York City, on the last day of my vacation there. I didn't visit Johnny's, but I did find another authentic pizzeria in Queens,
Airways Pizza, not far from my hotel. Eating at Airways Pizza was a classic New York experience. The pizza was no doubt some of the best I've ever eaten, so I'm not surprised that the local patron's over at Johnny's are mounting as neighborhood campaign against the opening of a Papa John's next to their neighborhood pizza joint.

Here's the introduction to the story:

There really is a John inside Johnny’s Pizza in Sunset Park, Brooklyn — John Miniaci Jr., whose father, John Sr., founded the neighborhood pizzeria in 1968.

There will soon be another John right next door on Fifth Avenue — Papa John’s Pizza, a franchise outlet. John Jr. considers this as an insult to his own papa John, who died just one month ago. Of all the spots the franchise could have chosen, why, he asks, did it have to be on the other side of the wall where two centurion busts stand guard above customers waiting for zeppoles or Sicilian slices?

“This is a neighborhood that has had businesses in the same family for two and three generations,” Mr. Miniaci said. “These big corporations come in and don’t see the value of that.”

That’s why Johnny’s latest delivery is a petition — to Papa John’s corporate headquarters in Kentucky. Some 2,200 people — shopkeepers and customers, including other pizzeria owners — have come to Mr. Miniaci’s defense. They have signed a declaration “to stop the establishment of Papa John’s in our neighborhood.”

This Brooklyn community has been grappling to maintain its character in the face of impersonal economic and residential development. The storefronts along Fifth Avenue near 58th Street have long been home to mom-and-pop stores and restaurants, patronized by the working families who live in the brownstones on narrow side streets. The stores have awnings that announce “Decent Dental Services” or “Spanish and American Food.”

Many were here when the area was down on its luck and real estate values were low, and are determined to keep the neighborhood’s traditional feel, even as they see chain stores and fast-food franchises creeping in.

They met Saturday to discuss how they can have a say in the way Sunset Park changes.

“I feel like this is the neighborhood’s last stand,” said Ivette Cabrera, a founding member of the Sunset Park Alliance of Neighbors, a new group that forced a proposed high-rise apartment building to scale back. Papa John’s, she said, “just came in right next to Johnny’s and planted itself right in the face of everything that is Sunset Park.”
Read the whole thing. My first thought upon reading this story was that if Johnny's Pizza is as good as it sounds, Johnny's family's got nothing to worry about: Their restaurant will put away the competition. In fact, the circulation of the anti-Papa John's petition is not only anti-capitalist, but probably unnecessary.

I think I've eaten Papa John's one time - and was disgusted. My son had some Papa John's at the Washington Nationals baseball game last week and he couldn't finish the piece (that says a lot, because my son's a real pizza man, and he know a good, authentic slice when he sees it). So, hopefully the Times will publish a follow-up story next year focusing on the winners and losers in the local Brooklyn pizza market's creative destruction. I'd put my money on Johnny's.

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