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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

An Obsession with Quality: The American Story Behind Bellissimo

Peter Micali Sr. as a young man in the Bronx, N.Y.

WILLIAMSBURG — Simply put, Peter Micali was the embodiment of the American dream.

As the owner of Bellissimo Pizza Café, on Mooretown Road, Micali became a local legend for his gruff demeanor and superior food.

“My dad was rough, he was a New Yorker,” Micali’s son, also named Peter, said of his late father, who passed away in August 2021. “He’d been through it all and I don’t think he was able to relate when we first opened up in Williamsburg. I used to tell him, ‘Dad, we’re not in Queens, you can’t talk to people like that.’ It took him a few years to understand and warm up to people, but people loved him.”

With time, the elder Peter began to get used to the vast culture difference that exists between New York City and Williamsburg, and soon endeared himself to a loyal customer base.

When considering the Micali patriarch’s background, one can see that his success in life was due to his tenacious attitude and unending work ethic.

Born on the war-ravaged island of Sicily in 1945, Peter emigrated to the United States with his family when he was 9-years-old. After reaching New York, his family settled in an Italian neighborhood located in the Bronx.

At only seventeen, he opened his first Italian deli; selling meats, cheese and a host of pickled items. However just as that business was getting off the ground, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Answering his Nation’s call, Peter sold his business and was sent to Vietnam in 1966.

“It’s such an unbelievable thing that he did,” the younger Micali said of his father. “Coming here as an immigrant as a child, not even knowing English. Opening his own business getting drafted. Having to leave my Mom, they were dating at the time. Going through absolute hell in Vietnam. Then coming back here and restarting a business and having a family. How can you not respect that?”

Upon returning to New York, Peter did what all good business people do when faced with hardship: He got back to work opening another deli.

Eventually, Peter moved across the East River to the borough of Queens where he owned several successful restaurants and catering businesses over the years.

In the early 2000s, the elder Micali and his wife, Lucille, moved to Williamsburg. Initially they opened a coffee shop, but in 2007, Peter and his son, Peter, opened up Bellissimo.

In the almost fifteen years since, the restaurant has become a favorite in the Historic Triangle for selling authentic New York-style pizza by the slice.

The younger Micali has been the workhorse in the kitchen, turning out the pies since day one. He starts his work day around 4 a.m. by making pizza dough. On a busy day, he says that he can of turn out around 200 pizzas from scratch all by himself.

“It has always been me in the back making the pizzas,” Micali chuckled. “People think it was my father, but he was a business man.”

The younger Micali has been the primary proprietor of the business for the last several years as his father’s health began to decline. He says that the keys to the restaurant’s success are simple:

“It’s an obsession with quality,” he notes. “Not going for the cheap way out. Too many people do that. My father was not one of those. I grew up seeing that. I am not going to buy cheap products to make cheap products for the sake of profit. I would rather not do that and I think people see that.”

While he does not lack any confidence in his product, the master pizza maker notes that Williamsburg does not lack for quality restaurants or businesses in general.

“I love the community aspect of Williamsburg,” Micali said. “There are so many other small businesses that I have such respect for and become friends with. There is room for everyone around here. Everyone has their own tastes.”

Moving forward in the wake of his father’s passing, Micali says that he plans to keep running the shop in the way his father taught him.

“He served his country, he did what he had to do to raise his family and he worked hard,” Micali said of his father. “He taught my brother and I to do the same.”

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