Sean Jefairjian will tell it to you straight. Born and raised in the Bronx, when he relocated to Pittsburgh, he was horrified by the city’s culinary scene. He’s the first to say it’s improved in the past decade or so, but it wasn’t always like that. In particular, he historically had difficulty finding a slice of pizza that tasted like home.
Coming from a corporate background, Jefairjian got bored during COVID-19 pandemic. As he started to work from home, his lifelong love of and interest in pizza turned into a full-time hobby. Then it turned into a business plan: He was going to bring true New York-style pizza to the suburbs of Pittsburgh. He was going to be the solution to his never-ending quest for pizza that tasted like his childhood.
A Slice of New York Pizza opened in Manor, Pennsylvania—a sleepy town some 25 miles east of Pittsburgh—in 2020. Three short years later, it made the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s shortlist of best pizzerias in the area. The pizzeria moved to a larger location in Murrysville, a bit closer to the city, and Jefairjian is now eyeing a second and third location north and south of Pittsburgh.
So how did Jefairjian pull this off in just a few years? For one, he masterfully used social media as a marketing tool. He knew that, for a pizza shop in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, he’d need to find a way—any way—to catch people’s attention. In order to do that, he has not been afraid to stir up controversy. For example, he’s enjoyed poking fun at the area’s penchant for putting provolone cheese on pizza.
“I have a firm, firm belief that provolone should never go on pizza—ever,” Jefairjian said. “So we’d mix it up and do videos about that and everybody in Pittsburgh would be like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I wouldn’t say we went viral, but we had some posts that went, what I would consider, locally viral.”
Jefairjian also took great interest in engaging with trolls. He’d respond to commenters—or “haters,” as he calls them—to create a wildfire of engagement. One of his tactics was to actually beat trolls to the punch when he sensed they might leave a review based on something that had happened inside of his pizzeria. He’d get his side of the story out first to control the narrative.
It should be noted that Jefairjian’s social media presence is always lighthearted and is often sincere, as well. Not only does he do an excellent job promoting what makes his pizzeria different from the competition—from the tomato sauce they use to the specials they offer on a given day—but he also showcases the great causes his pizzeria supports. For example, each year on September 11, he closes the shop to the public and instead invites first responders in Murrysville to swing through and pick up a slice.
It’s also worth noting that none of this would work if Jefairjian’s pizza wasn’t really, really good. It’s as New York as it gets. He offers a guarantee to everyone who grew up within 50 miles of New York: If the pizza doesn’t taste like home, he’ll issue them a refund on the spot. He has yet to give out a refund.
The pizza is so good that there is a group of pizza lovers located about an hour north of his shop that will buy out all of his pizza for the day once every six weeks. He closes the shop, makes all of the pizzas, drives halfway to them and unloads a bounty of the New York-style pizza they’ve been craving. That’s how much word has spread, and it’s also why he’s looking to expand into that area.
“Pittsburgh is unique,” Jefairjian said. “Everybody in the east suburbs knows who we are at this point, and the rest of the city is starting to find out. Ideally, in Pittsburgh, you want to get a foothold in the north, east, south and west suburbs because they are all unique, viable markets.”
Jefairjian attributed the quality of his pizza to the attention to detail that goes into making it. A lot of restaurateurs say that, he admits, but how many people walk the walk? He refers to his fascination with quality pizza as a “deep-seated obsession.” His shop uses a sourdough starter and ferments its dough for 72 hours. He uses King Arthur Flour from Vermont. His tomatoes are Chris Bianco’s Bianco DiNapoli from Northern California. He sources the mozzarella cheese from a farm in Western New York, a few hours north of his shop. In other words, he cuts zero corners when it comes to quality, and it shows.
He’s also constantly tinkering with his recipes. While some might be satisfied with the results A Slice of New York Pizza has accomplished, Jefairjian isn’t.
“What we believe we’re doing is becoming a higher level version of your quintessential slice shop,” Jefairjian said. “Our pizza today has a long way to go. That might sound funny since we’ve already been named ‘Best in Pittsburgh,’ but I truly believe a month from now it’ll be drastically better. It’s a never-ending quest where perfection does not exist. Things can only get better.”
As for his social media presence, Jefairjian noted that he’s toned it down a bit. With more than 11,000 followers on Facebook and 3,000-plus on Instagram, the pizzeria has begun to attract regional and national attention. Jefairjian was recently featured on the local CBS affiliate and appeared on the Pizza Roundtable with Will Dumas. He believes this notoriety—and his desire to grow the brand—call for a slightly cleaner-cut image, where dunking on trolls is probably frowned upon.
Still, A Slice of New York’s social channels remain playful and engaging. A recent post captioned, “This is what happens when you ask for ranch” showed a woman slamming a pizza box over a man’s head, the actors barely able to contain their laughter as the scene cuts.
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“We’ve had to behave ourselves a bit more,” Jefairjian said. “But we still try to do stuff that’s fun. I may not talk [smack] about provolone cheese, even though I still feel that way. Those are the conversations I can have one-on-one. I used to overengage with trolls, but now I try not to engage back and let it roll off my shoulders.”
Without missing a beat, Jeifairjian adds: “If somebody was trolling in the past? I wouldn’t hesitate to bury them.”
Whether or not this is a playbook another pizzeria could follow probably depends on where a pizzeria is located—and how many trolls come out of the woodwork.