Amid the ever-changing landscape of New York City, the neighborhood pizza joint is one of the few certainties you can count on. These mom-and-pop joints are the “guardians of authenticity in the face of homogenization,” according to the five friends and native New Yorkers behind a new book called The New York Pizza Project.
The book’s five authors–Ian Manheimer, Corey Mintz, Tim Reitzes, Gabe Zimmer, and Nick Johnson–embarked on the project all the way back in 2010, setting out to document pizza shops’ distinctive awnings and neon signs, the people who make the pizza and the people who eat it. In the end, they documented 100 shops, scattered across the city’s five boroughs.
“Our goal was to document the neighborhood mom-and-pop pizzerias we grew up going to as kids,” says Zimmer, who shot the images along with Johnson, his fellow photographer within the group. “We love everything about these places, from the mirrored walls to the characters behind the counter, and we wanted to pay homage to them.”
The friends spent five years collecting photographs and interviews, along with little snippets of overheard conversations, all of which they include in the book. The facades of these shops are particularly compelling, decorated with eye-catching neon signs, oversized 3-D metal typography, or hand painted signs. According to the authors, the signage harkens back to another time. “Many of the pizzerias we visited have been in the same location for anywhere from 20 to 50 years, making them among the longest tenured businesses on any given block,” says Johnson. “With that comes the preservation of storefront signage created in an era when your sign was all that separated you from the next guy. There was no Yelp. Customers had to make a decision on where to eat based on the vibe of a place.”
The team chose to publish the project as a book instead of digitally with a similar notion of preservation and authenticity in mind. “We wanted something a little more permanent,” says Johnson. “This way, when we’re old men and New York City is a theme park, the book can serve as a little time machine to bring us back to the good old days.”