Researcher Uncovers Evidence of a Forgotten American Pizza Pioneer

Everyone knows Lombardi’s in New York was the first pizzeria in the U.S. But new research suggests everyone might be dead wrong.

Although Gennaro Lombardi has long been credited with starting the pizza movement in the U.S. when he opened Lombardi’s in 1908, Peter Regas, a statistician and pizza researcher, has concluded that Lombardi’s was not the first place in the U.S. to sell pizza. Instead, he believes a 19th century baker named Filippo Milone is the preeminent pioneer of American pizza.

Regas will present his argument for Milone as a “lost forefather of pizza” at the U.S. Pizza Museum on February 23. He says Milone established both Lombardi’s and John’s of Bleecker Street, but his name was forgotten in the annals of pizza history after he died.

“Filippo Milone likely established pizzerias in at least six locations throughout New York City,” Regas says, according to the U.S. Pizza Museum. “Of these locations, three later became famous under different names: Pop’s, John’s and Lombardi’s. Pop’s in Brooklyn closed decades ago, but the other two in Manhattan still exist. Milone, a pioneer in what has become a $45 billion industry, later died in 1924, without children to preserve his story, buried in an unmarked grave in Queens.”

Regas says he has discovered documents showing that Milone established pizzerias—sometimes classified as delis, groceries or bakeries—before handing them off to others when he moved onto other locations. “Intentionally or not, he planted seeds all over Manhattan and Brooklyn,” Regas says. “Some of these pizzerias quickly died off. But three of his pizzerias became iconic, lasting for decades. No one else can say that.”​

Regas will publish a book on the history of American pizza later this year.

Lombardi's was the first pizzeria to be named to PMQ's Pizza Hall of Fame. Read more about it here.