By Charlie Pogacar

Frank Zabski, the self-proclaimed “Polish Pizzaiolo,” has very strong opinions about New Haven-style apizza, a subject he has dedicated much of his life to. He starts with the basics.

“Does New Haven-style apizza have to be cooked in a coal-fired oven?” Zabski asks rhetorically. “These are the facts,” he says.

Zabski, the founder of the New Haven Pizza School, then launches into a history lesson displaying an impressive knowledge of European immigration to the U.S. in the early 20th century. His lecture touches on themes such as reforestation, linguistics and how Italians ended up in New Haven, Connecticut, cooking pizza in coal-fired ovens. After about 10 minutes, this is where he ends up: No, apizza does not have to be cooked in coal-fired ovens.

Related: The Mystique and the Magic of New Haven-Style Pizza

A New Haven style pizza sits on a pizza peel, bulging with tomato sauce and flavor.

The Polish Pizzaiolo

This topic is particularly relevant these days, as New Haven apizza seems primed to explode across the U.S., much in the way that Detroit-style pizza has over the past five years. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana has expanded to 11 different locations, while Sally’s Apizza recently opened its first store outside of Connecticut and has designs to open more. How the style of pizza will expand without losing the distinct char and other characteristics that make it so authentic is an open question.

Zabski is one of apizza’s biggest cheerleaders—and he’s also at the center of pushing the pizza style onto the national scene. His credentials mean his opinion carries weight.

Zabski grew up in West Haven, a small city next to New Haven. He was introduced to the art of pizza making at age 12, when he was helping a woman of Italian descent create pizza for summer church carnivals around the New Haven area. She showed him and his friends how to make dough, sauce and even cheese by hand.

“At the time, I didn’t know what she was teaching me,” Zabski said. “The seed that was planted, it was kind of like ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ except it didn’t grow until I was in my mid-40s.”

As he alludes to, Zabski took a scenic route to making pizza professionally. In his 20s and 30s, Zabski was a serial entrepreneur in the tech and IT space. He ran an Apple consulting company and then a cabling infrastructure business. All the while, he was visiting Wooster Street on a regular basis. He fell in love with New Haven’s “Big Three” apizza brands: Pepe’s, Sally’s and Modern Apizza.

“Back then, Wooster Street was still kind of old school,” Zabski said. “My girlfriend at the time—now my wife—and I had a standing reservation at Sally’s for 10 years. We have photos of us with our kids in carriers at Pepe’s. Those pizzerias really mean a lot to us.”

When Zabski “got bored” professionally, he returned to his roots by starting Fired Up Pizza Truck in 2012. For four years he ran the truck, specializing in New Haven-style apizza, and was “crazy successful” in his own words. A problem emerged, though: As the owner of three businesses, he was out of the house. A lot. Because he had young kids, it started to wear on his marriage.

“My wife sat me down,” Zabski said. “And I should say that she is a really huge fan of my entrepreneurial spirit. She has always supported me. And she was half joking at the time, I think, but she sat me down and said, ‘One of two things needs to happen: Option one is that one of your businesses go. Option two is that I go.’”

A New Haven style tomato pie on a pizza peel.

The Polish Pizzaiolo

Zabski decided the pizza truck was his biggest time suck and decided to do away with it, but his love of New Haven-style apizza never ceased. When the pandemic hit in 2020, he started a Facebook page dedicated to his favorite style of pizza and was blown away by the response. It became a place for people to bask in nostalgia for the style, or to inquire how to best make it at home.

Being the entrepreneur that he is, Zabski saw an opportunity and ran with it, launching The Pizza Gavones, a YouTube channel he ran with two of his friends. The main goal of the channel was to spotlight New Haven-style pizza joints all around Connecticut—especially the ones not on Wooster Street that fly under the radar and may have needed some additional love and support during COVID lockdowns.

“Everyone knows Sally’s, Pepe’s and Modern,” Zabski said. “The whole premise was the three P’s: place, pizza and personality. We wanted to spotlight these other businesses and let people know, hey, these people are here making incredibly good pizza that is as good as what you’d find on Wooster Street. Please go patronize them.”

The Pizza Gavones channel now has over 8,000 subscribers on YouTube and over 4,000 followers on Facebook. It helped illustrate to Zabski just how much national attention New Haven-style apizza was finally getting. He says he believes his channel, along with Dave Portnoy’s One Bite Reviews and Colin Caplin’s A Taste of New Haven, are largely responsible for much of the attention New Haven apizza has been getting nationally. He thinks that attention is going to translate into the style’s trajectory outside of Connecticut.

“Wooster Street is kind of a magical place because it’s a throwback in time,” Zabski says. “It’s a cool vibe. You walk into that place and you know that it has served pizza for 100 years, and you start thinking about the people who have sat at those tables before you over those 100 years. I guess my bias is that I want people to see these other places. Because, honestly, as great as Wooster Street is, the streets are narrow. It’s hard to park. And I know places that are just as good as any place on Wooster Street where I can drive up, I’m not stressed out, I’m not waiting in line—and I have an incredible time with my family.”

Riding the wave of excitement, Zabski recently launched The New Haven Pizza School, which he bills as “the world’s first school dedicated to New Haven-style apizza.” The school has become a place where novices and experts alike can come and find out the key ingredients, attributes and cooking styles that make apizza what it is. Zabski’s school offers four different tiers: Brick & Mortar; Team Building Lunch & Learn; 1:1; and Friends and Family.

A couple in class at the New Haven Pizza School play with dough.

New Haven Pizza School

“When I first started in IT, I did a lot of stand-up training,” Zabski said. “And I absolutely loved it. I love teaching people—it’s a huge passion of mine. And the pizza school really combines three passions of mine: I love to talk. I love to teach. And I love New Haven-style apizza.”

The reaction to the school has been overwhelming. In particular, the team-building classes have been a huge hit with corporate entities looking for something lighthearted and engaging for in-person meetings. The school has also raised Zabski’s profile as a cheerleader for New Haven-style apizza in a big way: He’s gotten recognition in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

“I really want to grow the school,” Zabski says. “I want to start possibly taking it on the road. But that will take time.

“One of my main goals,” Zabski continues, “is to evangelize New Haven-style pizza and introduce it to the rest of the country-slash-world.”