- Michael and Nicholas Testa, sons of Carmine Testa, have become dough-tossing stars and helped their dad’s restaurants earn TV coverage nationwide.
- They were also the founders of Pizza Across America, an annual event they started after visiting New York City in 2017 to bring pizza to the homeless.
By Rick Hynum | Photos by Richard Barry
Editor’s note: This article, which appears in the May 2022 issue of PMQ Pizza Magazine, contains additional bonus material about how the Jersey Pizza Boys founded Pizza Across America in 2018.
Carmine Testa was just an eighth-grader when his father bought a pizza shop—pretty much on a whim—in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, in 1984. “I thought it was the coolest thing in the friggin’ world,” Testa says. “It sat maybe 30 people, with pizzas, sandwiches and some dinners. I answered the phone, greeted customers and took orders.” His dad, as it turned out, wasn’t exactly suited for that line of work—he closed the store down a year and a half later—but, for Testa, pizza became a calling.
“There were three pictures on the wall: Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson and John Stamos,” Testa recalls, with a chuckle. “I have no idea why John Stamos was on the wall.”
You won’t find photos of Stamos at Testa’s own New Jersey pizzerias, Carmine’s Pizza Factory in Jersey City and Jersey Pizza Boys in Avenel. Testa’s teenage sons, Michael and Nicholas, are stars in their own right, known nationwide as the Jersey Pizza Boys, a pair of dough spinning prodigies with smooth moves and charisma to burn. Their grinning visages grace the walls at both of Testa’s stores, and Testa wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s not just that Testa is proud of his boys—although he certainly is. He also knows a good marketing angle when he sees one. And Michael and Nicholas, a pair of natural-born showmen, never met a TV camera they didn’t like.
“One night I’m lying in bed, and Michael wakes me up. He’s got the $50 Throw Dough in his hands. He’s, like, ‘What’s this, Daddy?’ And I’m, like, ‘Don’t touch that, put it down!’”
— Carmine Testa
The Potato Chip Toss
Testa has stories to tell about his life as a baker and pizza man. After his father closed shop, Testa took a job at a biker bar, called Pioneer Tavern, that also sold pizza. He quickly won over the tough, leather-clad clientele just by being himself. “I’d bring out a $6 pizza, and they’d hand me a $20 bill and say, ‘Keep the change, kid.’ Before I knew it, I was making $80 in tips in one night. Everybody knew the bikers loved me, so nobody messed with me.”
From there, Testa went to Anacapri Pizza, a precursor to Anacapri Foods, now a major East Coast distributor. Anacapri Pizza had a gimmick. “The pizza counter was located at the storefront window,” he says. “You had to learn how to toss pizza dough at the window, especially the Potato Chip Toss. It came in really handy when you saw a couple of pretty girls walking by. You banged on the window to get their attention and started tossing the pizza.”
Testa ran his own store, called Pizza Villa, from 1991 to 1996. In that experience, he says, “I learned everything not to do. Those were some of the best years of my life, surrounded by friends, being my own boss, but not making any money because I did so many things wrong. Through my mistakes, I learned what to stay away from.”
By the time he opened Carmine’s Pizza Factory in 2000, Testa knew what he was doing. Then his sons came along. And that’s when things really took off.
To burnish his own spinning skills, Testa had purchased some Throw Dough from PMQ. “One night I’m lying in bed, and Michael wakes me up. He’s got this $50 Throw Dough in his hands. He’s, like, ‘What’s this, Daddy?’ And I’m, like, ‘Don’t touch that, put it down!’” But the artificial dough proved an irresistible toy to Testa’s sons—and a cheap investment that would pay off in a big way. The boys played around with it at the pizzeria while Testa worked. “Michael had this natural ability,” he says. “It caught my eye immediately, so I went into ninja mode. How do you stand out in the market?”
U.S. Foods was delivering to both Carmine’s Pizza Factory and a rival pizzeria down the street—always the same ingredients, Testa noticed. He knew he needed to distinguish himself from his competitors in some other way. One day, he shot a little video of Michael spinning dough and set it to Michael’s favorite song—Moves Like Jagger by Maroon 5. “The song and Michael’s rhythms just worked together perfectly, even the way he’s moving his shoulders,” Testa says. “I put the video out and, boom, it goes viral. The Huffington Post picked it up, and all of the TV shows around the country would pick up on whatever Huffington Post thought was cool.”
Testa calls it dumb luck, but he was shrewd enough to capitalize on the video’s popularity and start making his own luck. “There’s National Pizza Month, National Pizza Day, National Pepperoni Pizza Day, and all these TV shows need a three-to-six-minute segment,” he notes.
Under the Carmine’s Pizza Factory name, Testa started using social media, particularly video, to promote his sons. He created a Facebook page, which has more than 44,000 followers, just for them. The more he promoted them on social media, the more TV producers noticed. The bookings started rolling in. The affable Testa mostly stayed in the wings, putting few, if any, demands, on the producers—they’re the pros, after all, and know what works.
Sporting branded T-shirts and performing routines they developed with their dad, Michael and Nicholas were soon charming hosts and audiences alike on talk shows like Good Morning America, The Wendy Williams Show, Rachael Ray and The Steve Harvey Show. The boys loved it—no stage-dad pushing required—and so did Testa’s customers, who came to feel like they knew the boys personally, whether they’d met them or not.
Now a star player on his high school’s football team, Michael was a natural at dough spinning, while Nicholas had to try harder and made mistakes. But cute little Nicky knew how to steal the show. “Michael was the first to go on TV, with Nicky in the audience,” Testa recalls. “But Nicky would work his way onto the stage as Michael’s sidekick. Michael was really tossing, and Nicky was trying. Michael was getting the ‘oohs’ from the audience, and Nicky was getting the laughs.”
Testa and his sons kept polishing the act, with each boy getting a chance to shine. “There’s always a point when Michael gets that one minute where he takes it to the next level. Nicky can’t keep up with him, but he’s always doing something in the background that’s still entertaining to the people. We learned that early on—how to keep the audience entertained.”
And entertaining is what Michael and Nicholas love best. Once, as they waited backstage for their second appearance on Rachael Ray, Testa asked Michael if he was nervous. “He looked at me, so confused, and he’s like, ‘No, why?’ He had no idea he should be nervous,” Testa says. “My heart’s about to jump out of my chest. There’s only a few hundred people in the audience, but millions are gonna see this. This kid is special—he’s just got it.”
“I know I’m a very lucky guy, but I also make sure to maximize the luck.”
— Carmine Testa
Maximizing the Luck
For several years, various TV producers came up with their own names for the dough spinning team: the Mozzarella Fellas, the Dough Boys, etc. Testa went along with them until 2015, when he settled on a name that stuck: the Jersey Pizza Boys. “We needed a brand and an identity for them,” he says. “When we did The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon in early 2017, I was adamant. I said, ‘Just so you know, we go by Jersey Pizza Boys now.’ That was the big nationwide introduction of the brand.”
It’s also the name of Testa’s second restaurant, which launched in Avenel to huge success less than a year ago. Leading up to opening day, Testa used social media to create a buzz for the new store, posting behind-the-scenes videos of everything from bathroom renovations to installing the oven’s exhaust hood. “You would think that’s boring, but people watch that stuff,” he says. “We didn’t do any advertising when we opened. We just unlocked the doors, and it was a madhouse. We couldn’t answer the phones or offer delivery. We just focused on the people who walked in.”
Then, last November, Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports showed up and gave Jersey Pizza Boys a solid score. “I’m in Jersey City for 21 years, and Portnoy has never come to Carmine’s Pizza Factory,” Testa says. “But we’d made enough noise through our marketing in six months that he came and gave us a great score of 8.1.” Even better, Testa had scheduled his first direct mail push—5,000 mailers featuring the Jersey Pizza Boys menu—for November 23, which turned out to be the same day Portnoy’s video dropped. “That just kept our momentum going,” he says. “I know I’m a very lucky guy, but I also make sure to maximize the luck.”
Founding Pizza Across America
It also helps to have a pair of sons who genuinely like doing good in their community. The Jersey Pizza Boys have been using their fame for a good cause since 2018, when they founded Pizza Across America, now an annual Slice Out Hunger event that brings pizza to shelters and soup kitchens around the country. At the time, Michael and Nicholas were just 13 and 11 respectively, and they just wanted to help people in need.
It actually started in 2017 after the boys took part in a different campaign to feed homeless people in their area. They’d brought a bus loaded with pies to New York City and helped distribute slices to the homeless. “On the car ride back, we were, like, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing to do that across the country?” Michael remembered in an interview with Good Morning America.
With help from their plugged-in dad, Michael and Nicholas soon found some big-name partners, including Slice Out Hunger, a leading nonprofit focused on food insecurity, and Slice, an online platform that helps independent pizzerias take advantage of online ordering. Before long, pizzerias nationwide were taking part in the campaign, pledging to donate at least 10 pizzas to a local food bank, shelter or soup kitchen.
Their mother, Diane Testa, told ABC News that her sons have hearts as big as their talent. “They’re always up to help,” she said. “They want to help people in need. They want to help their friends. Animals always end up at my house.”
Becoming a Powerhouse Brand
With his mix of marketing savvy, civic spirit and occasional good fortune, Testa has created a brand that could easily travel beyond the Tri-State Area. He’s not sure whether the boys will make pizza their career, and he’s not pressuring them to do so—he wants them to go to college or trade school first. But the brand will live on either way. While Testa hasn’t changed the name of his Jersey City location, he has rebranded the menu as Jersey Pizza Boys by Carmine’s Pizza Factory.
He’d like to open a third store in New Jersey, then look at expanding into other states, probably in the South. “People have moved all over from Jersey, specifically to North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida, and they love Jersey pizza. I think the brand will really be a powerhouse in those areas.”
He’s unsure about franchising, but licensing the Jersey Pizza Boys name could be an option. And several investors have shown interest. First, though, he wants to nail down his system and processes. “I don’t want to take anyone’s money, because, God forbid, it fails, and you just cashed out your 401(k),” he says. “I can’t guarantee success yet. I’m a perfectionist. I need to open another location in another Jersey town, and if I can duplicate our success there, I’ll feel more confident with an investor who wants to open in Tennessee.
“For now,” Testa adds, sounding like the loving dad that he is, “I’m just focused on nurturing this brand.”
Rick Hynum is PMQ’s editor in chief.