Fewer Immigrants, More Authentic Immigrant-Style Pizza Shops


Another day, another story of a mustache-twisting chain store baron ruining the charm of (non-hipster) Brooklyn. (Manhattan, according to popular opinion, was long-ago "Disneyified"; Brooklyn is the current battleground.) The New York Times reports that residents of the supposedly gentrifying Sunset Park neighborhood are trying to block the opening of a Papa John's pizza shop—located right next door to Johnny's Pizza, a neighborhood staple since the late 1960s:

There really is a John inside Johnny's Pizza in Sunset Park, Brooklyn—John Miniaci Jr., whose father, John Sr., founded the neighborhood pizzeria in 1968.

There will soon be another John right next door on Fifth Avenue—Papa John's Pizza, a franchise outlet. John Jr. considers this as an insult to his own papa John, who died just one month ago. Of all the spots the franchise could have chosen, why, he asks, did it have to be on the other side of the wall where two centurion busts stand guard above customers waiting for zeppoles or Sicilian slices? "This is a neighborhood that has had businesses in the same family for two and three generations," Mr. Miniaci said. "These big corporations come in and don't see the value of that."

Boo to the corporations! Yeah for the authentic local Italians! But just who are these corporate interlopers, and why are they bent on destroying the Brooklyn of Hollywood's imagination?

Sandeep Singh, a 23-year-old immigrant from India who invested tens of thousands of dollars in the pizza franchise (his second), said he meant no disrespect and that he, too, was a small business owner. He insisted he was not there to run Johnny's out of business.

"Yes, we share a wall, but we are not selling what Johnny sells," said Mr. Singh, who is known as Sunny. "Johnny should not be concerned. It's not a big deal. The people who come to Johnny's now will keep coming to Johnny's." Chris Sternberg, a spokesman for Papa John's, based in Louisville, Ky., said the company approved the franchise after studying local demographics and being assured that Mr. Singh's franchise would be viable. It took Mr. Singh more than a year to find a storefront, which he finally rented from a landlord who owned a pizzeria himself.

Locals intereviewed by the Times don't understand why Singh would pursue the American dream from Sunset Park:

"This is the best pizza in the area," said Roger Ramos, a postal worker who grew up nearby. "Papa John's is just generic. Why are they coming here? Greed? I don't know."

"Me, as a businessman, I think this corporation has no respect, no class," Mr. Coluccio said. "I'm not scared Papa John will have better pizza. It's just the way they're doing it. It's like they came to your house and kicked you right out."

Well, no, it isn't like that at all. Rather than handing out petitions in the neighborhood (Johnny and his supporters have, thus far, gathered 2,200 signatures), customers could just ignore Papa John's, and continue patronizing Johnny's. Just a thought.