Giovanni Lanzo of Luigi's Pizza in Brooklyn

Luigi's Pizza / Instagram

Luigi’s Pizza: One of Brooklyn’s Elite ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ Joints Turns 50

Giovanni Lanzo preserves the old-school pizza traditions while cracking jokes and shooting down special requests in Instagram Reels.

Some might call it a “hole in the wall,” but Luigi’s Pizza in Brooklyn ranks among New York’s elite pizza shops. And, in a recent video from Vice TV, co-owner Giovanni “Gio” Lanzo estimates he’s made more than 1 million pies for his fanatically devoted customers.

Gio’s dad, Luigi Lanzo, founded the pizzeria with his wife, Teodora, in 1973. According to the eatery’s website, Luigi promised his family at the time that they would offer the “best pizza in New York,” adding, “There shall be no compromise on the finest ingredients. We shall grow them in our backyard if we have to!”

And they did exactly that, tending a garden where they grew herbs, vegetables, even fruit trees, while welcoming every customer with generosity and warmth. Their pizzeria even made it onto the big screen, featured in Adam Sandler’s 1999 hit film, “Big Daddy.”

Gio and his siblings, Lisa and Marisa, run the shop today, with an abundance of Brooklyn sass and good humor. As befits a pizzeria that’s celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Luigi’s remains an old-school slice joint, but its marketing approach is thoroughly modern. Example: Gio and his team can be seen slinging dough and offering humorous commentary regularly on Instagram Reels. Gio is the star of many of the Reels, where he gives no-nonsense responses to customers’ questions or summarily shoots down special requests that offend his traditionalist’s views of how New York-style pizza should be made.

this is a close-up photo of a classic New York style pizza topped with pepperoni and Italian sausage
Luigi’s Pizza / Instagram

When one customer asks for a “Buffalo slice,” Gio responds, “You’ve got the wrong place. Buffalo? We don’t put buffaloes on pizza. They don’t even fit on a slice. Are you serious?” In another Reel, a customer asks for burrata on a slice. Instead, Gio plops a ball of burrata down on a tray of Italian cured meats. “That’s the way you eat burrata,” Gio says. “Pizza is perfect the way it is. It doesn’t need any burrata help.” The customer replies, “But I’m a vegetarian.”

In the Vice video, Gio gives all credit to his mom and dad, both Italian immigrants, for his current position as one of New York’s most respected pizzaioli. “Without these two people, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have anything to talk about….My whole life is because two people came in and said, ‘We can make it in America.’ Otherwise, I would have been…” He pauses and grins. “I would have been skinny, probably.”

He started making pizzas at the age of 11. Since then, he says, he’s made more than a million pies “easy.”

Related: How you can win up to $15,000 with one great pizza recipe

“I just love what I do,” he says in the Vice TV video. “Do you know it doesn’t even feel like I’ve made one? When you do something that you like so much, it’s not a job. People don’t understand. It’s not work for me. I come here to hang out. I’m never bored here.”

Earlier this month, the New York Simply website ranked Luigi’s Pizza at No. 9 on its list of Brooklyn’s 12 best pizza spots, noting, “The menu doesn’t boast fancy pies, but, rather, focuses on making traditional pizzas extremely well.” In a February 1 post, a writer for Your Brooklyn Guide also praised Luigi’s for offering some of New York City’s best pizzas. “The classics shine here, but they also have my absolute favorite slice of Sicilian around. Each time you go in, you will be given one of the best pizza slices in the city and, most often, from the chef and owner himself.”

Luigi Lanzo passed away in June 2021 at the age of 88. In an interview with Brooklyn Magazine later that month, Giovanni reflected on his parents’ legacy. “My father and my mother’s big saying was, do good and forget about it” he said. “Do wrong, and think about it every day for the rest of your life.”