Walking into Joe’s Pizza is a bit of a star-studded experience. Sure, the walls of the 37-year-old downtown New York pizza landmark are covered with photos of celebrities - like Leonardo DiCaprio, Anne Hathaway, and Owen Wilson - scarfing down fresh Sicilian slices, but perhaps the most recognizable faces are the ones New Yorkers see at every coveted visit; the guys behind the pizza, specifically pizza master Alex Bisogni, who’s been at Joe’s for nearly 23 years. As the man posing with the celebrities in every picture, Alex has become so much the face of Joe’s Pizza, that customers ask to pose with him when they visit. Here, TIWILNY goes behind the counter and into the day-in-the-life of Alex, one of the men responsible for New York City’s most beloved and iconic pizza pies.
See the photos and interview here.
Describe how you started working at Joe’s.
I began working the counter, and then I learned how to make pizza from Joe himself. I watched him as he made the pizza, and when they needed a pizza man, I decided to try it, and I liked it. Some guys like to work the counter, not the pizza. I like to work the pizza.
How often do you see Joe?
He comes in everyday; morning, the afternoon. So does his son and his grandson.
What’s the secret? What makes Joe’s Pizza so good?
The sauce. The way we make the dough. The fresh mozzarella. It’s all basic ingredients. The oven is 30 years old. And every guy here who makes pizza makes it in a different way.
You can really taste a difference?
Oh yeah. I have customers who tell me they taste a difference. It’s all in the thinness of the crust and the way it’s cooked, for how long. But the way I make it I learned from the boss. Trained for hours and hours and hours. You develop a feel for it.
Do you order pizza anywhere else? You must be a big critic.
Yeah, I eat pizza in Little Italy at Lombardi’s, Totonno’s in Coney Island, Di Fara in Midwood. Eh, some of them are good. Lombardi’s is good. But still, it’s okay, no big deal. This one is better.
Do you still grab a slice of Joe’s, or have you had enough of it?
Two days ago I ate one. I’ll eat them some nights. I still do.
You guys just make the basic three pies: cheese, pepperoni, Sicilian. Have you ever considered making more complex pizzas, like Hawaiian or salad?
We don’t have room for that. We only have room for three pies. We have toppings we can add to the cheese pizza, but we keep it simple. Our customers love our basic pies.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from the big guy Joe?
If you make the pizza with love, it comes out good. If you don’t like what you do, it won’t come out good. Forget about it.
You’ve met a ton of celebrities. Name your favorite.
Leonardo DiCaprio. He was here about a month ago. He’s a big fan. Last week, Owen Wilson was here. Stephen Dorff, too. It depends on if they’re filming in New York. When they are, they come here. Stephen, when he comes, he always asks for me. He’s known me for years.
It’s 24 hours. I was in Miami for three days and it was a hard time for me. I had to go home early. There was no access to buses or subways, only cabs. It’s so easy in New York. And it’s like a big family. People are so friendly; the locals, the folks from London, Italy, Germany, Australia. There’s such a closeness. They like us. They go back and forth and take pictures here; they email me the pictures. It’s one big chain reaction, and it all starts here.