I grew up in the Bronx. For a poor skinny white kid in the 1960s it wasn’t the ideal place to be.
When I was about 14 years old I got my first job at a steakhouse near our home in Mahopac, right off Taconic Parkway.
If anything needed to be done, I did it. It didn’t take long for me to start working as a cook. I was a natural. I owe that to my mother too since I would often sit around as a young boy and watch her make our family meals. She was, hands down, the world’s best cook. Before I was ten she had taught me how to make mashed potatoes, meat balls and steak omelets. She also taught me how to make marinara sauce so I guess I was destined for the pizza business.
I had always dreamed of having my own restaurant. My mother listened to my dreams with reservation.
I used to stop at a nearby coffee shop to unwind before heading home. I remember sitting near the window and looking out at the old, boarded up store across the street. I looked at it for years. One night, out of curiosity I walked over, pulled the boards off and took a peek. I was surprised to see a beautiful brick oven inside. Turns out the store had been a bakery in the 1920s though hadn’t been occupied for more than 30 years.
The brick oven that was already there gave me the idea to open up a pizzeria. I had seen similar ovens at neighborhood pizzerias. The problem was I now owned a coal burning oven that had been inoperable for years and needed significant cleaning and repairs. I hired a local kid to clean it and called a mechanic from a gas burner company to install gas jets. I then went to work on developing the menu. I was a self-proclaimed junk food connoisseur. I had eaten at every local pizza place. I decided to create my menu based on what I liked (and didn’t like) at other places. I was planning to slice my cheese on a meat slicer because I had tasted sliced cheese at Johnny’s Pizza in Mount Vernon. So good. Of course, I intended to use my mother’s marinara recipe for the sauce. I opened Modern Pizzeria in 1987.
Life was good. I had found my calling and was making strides. Both my club and pizzeria were doing well. After years of working very hard on both enterprises, I decided to take a much needed vacation. I went to the West Coast in search of sun (to escape the cold New York weather) and visit my old friend from acting school, Giuseppe. He too had taken the entrepreneurial route. He owned an impressive hair salon in the heart of Beverly Hills. I fell in love with the weather and the city. With a little persuasion from Giuseppe I decided to sell my club and restaurant and move to LA.
Success depends, to some degree, on timing. Funny how things happen, or rather, what we make happen. When I moved to California I wanted a new beginning. I set out to look for a new location to open a restaurant though I didn’t have to look long. I found the perfect place right across the street from Giuseppe’s salon! I invested every dime I had into the place but I didn’t care. I would finally fulfill a dream of living in a beautiful climate and doing what I loved.
I had thought about calling my new restaurant “Richie’s Pizza.” Whether it was pride or a narcissistic trip, I got over it and settled on the name Mulberry Street Pizzeria instead. Mulberry Street was a hotspot in New York that housed a lot of restaurants and eateries. I couldn’t wait to introduce my New York style pizza to the West Coast.
In October 2012, Mulberry Street Pizzeria celebrated 20 years in business.
When people ask me how I became a success at one of the hardest professions I tell them the simple truth: I wanted it more. It is my firm belief that you can achieve anything you want if you truly want it bad enough and are willing to make sacrifices.
I cherish the life lessons and work ethic my mother instilled in me early on she inspired me to attack my dreams with a zealous spirit. After all, she was the one who reminded me that two hundred years ago we were a nation of pioneers, explorers and fighters. Nothing could hold us back. When we encountered an obstacle we changed course, adapted, improvised.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to share some of my favorite recipes here with you.
Love & Pizza