There is almost nothing more quintessentially New York than a fresh slice from the neighborhood pizza joint. In fact, in a city that is constantly changing, that is one of the few things that seems to stay comfortingly the same, along with street nut vendors and fake bags for sale in Chinatown.
For the first time, the beloved New York slice, and the people who make the pies, have been documented by a group of five friends who set out to archive pizza shops, their awnings and signs, the people who make the pizza, and people who eat it.
The final product, a book called The New York Pizza Project, recorded 100 shops across all five boroughs.
“Our goal was to document the neighborhood mom-and-pop pizzerias we grew up going to as kids,” said Gabe Zimmer, who photographed many of the images for the book along with Nick Johnson. “We love everything about these places, from the mirrored walls to the characters behind the counter, and we wanted to pay homage to them.”
Zimmer and his friends aren’t the only people who love pizza — approximately 93% of Americans eat pizza at least once a month. Besides being an integral part of the New York identity, pizza is beloved from coast to coast and has become a part of the American experience at large.
For their book, the friends spent five years collecting photographs and interviews, plus snippets of overheard conversations. Especially notable and compelling are the images of the shops’ facades, complete with neon signs, over-sized 3-D metal typography, or hand-painted signs.
The authors wax nostalgic for a times that they weren’t even there to experience, but the remnants of which are apparent enough: “Many of the pizzerias we visited have been in the same location from anywhere from 20 to 50 years, making them among the longest tenured businesses on any given block,” they wrote. “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.”
Their decision to publish in print rather than digitally reflected their ode to preservation and authenticity. “We wanted something a little more permanent,” said 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.”