Sally’s Apizza fans don’t want changes at the New Haven eatery
NEW HAVEN — Lou and Jen Altschuler just had to come.
They were among the hundreds who showed up at Sally’s Apizza throughout the holiday week, not an unusual sight, but there was more urgency to it this time.
“We just had to go before it changes hands,” Lou Altschuler said as the Durham couple took a break from eating. There were a few slices of sausage pizza still on the tray. Jen had a pie with mozzarella.
Declaring himself a pizza aficionado, Lou said when they visit any other pizza place, they have a rating system.
“’Not Sally’s, but good.’ ‘Close, but nothing like Sally’s,’” he said.
“Nothing is this. It is just perfect the way it is,” Lou said pointing to the almost empty tray.
A quirky space, the restaurant doesn’t appear to have seen many changes in its eight-decade history.
“They haven’t spent a dollar in a hundred years, and it doesn’t matter,” Lou Altschuler said.
“You don’t even get a plate,” Jen said. “And nobody cares,” Lou added.
Lineage Properties LLC, a company registered in Delaware, closed on the deal for the Wooster Street property and business in early December, but the attorneys have put a gag order on who the new owners are until sometime this month.
Sally’s is well-known and Jen Altschuler, in a small way, added to that.
When she did marketing for Starter sportsware apparel in the 1990s, she had to take honorees out to dinner. Sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner, the three-time Olympic winner, was one of them. For years they would freeze pizzas and send them to her home in Mission Viejo, Calif., and Sally’s was a definite stop when she was here.
The iconic pizzeria was started in 1938 by Salvatore “Sally” Consiglio and his wife, Florence “Flo” Consiglio, and was left to their children, Bobby, Rick and Ruth Consiglio when Flo died in 2012. Informal offers started coming in soon after, but lawsuits have held up a sale since 2015 when one proposed deal was rejected.
Now the brothers said they will continue as managers, rather than owners, with all the headaches that entails.
Sally’s will close for about two weeks this month for repairs to the brick oven. Bobby Consiglio said if they are going to be closed longer, they will put a notice on their website.
Throughout the day, from Thurday through Saturday, in the dozen booths, about 60 people were crammed in at a time, as others bunched together near the door, out of the 15 degree cold, waiting for a table to open up.
Asked how many pizzas they sold in a night during this holiday rush, Bobby Consiglio said: “I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine.”
Bobby, 68, said there might be two smalls ordered at a table, but they will also have five large to go.
He said he has never wanted to know, night after night, “because I might have been gone years ago.”
“That is something neither of us wants to know, because it would make us tired,” Rick Consiglio said.
“Just say a lot,” Rick, 66, advised. “Just say a hell of a ... lot,” his older brother added.
The brothers take turns overseeing the kitchen, where three workers — Enrique “The Baker” Vega, Sam “The Whip” Cotto and Gilberto Rodriguez-Morel — turn out the pizzas, while the other brother sits at the booth in the back keeping track of the orders. Michael Shanahan, who grew up in Westville across the street from the Consiglios and has been there since 1965, works both the kitchen and dining area.
“Michael, I need olives ASAP,” shouts Cotto, over the din in the small space with its coal-fired oven. “Enrique, watch behind you. There is one coming this way,” he says as one pie goes into the oven and another comes out.
It is controlled chaos as they move around each other across a floor covered with flour and cornmeal.
Family and friends, who come by to help out, like David Eder, fill out the staff in addition to waiter Lorenzo Lawlor who works the weekends, and the newest addition, Jerardo Gomez, 16, a junior at Wilbur Cross High School.
Jerardo said the Consiglios wanted to bring back Sal and Flo’s practice of helping young teens by letting them work there part time. He was chosen out of five candidates.
Rick Consiglio said when friends step in to help, it makes it easier on the regular crew.
The walls are covered with photos of visiting celebrities, newspaper clippings and family memorabilia of Sal and Flo. Rick Consiglio said the new owners want to basically keep it the same, while updating things like the bathrooms.
Most of those ordering at Sally’s in the last few days were longtime customers with multiple generations in tow.
One of them was U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who was there with her husband, Stanley Greenberg, their children and grandchildren. A classic tomato pie with grated cheese was among the choices at their booth, which was augmented by an additional table and chairs to seat the large party.
At a booth nearby, Angelo Cocco, 76, of Bridgeport, said he has been coming there since he was 8 years old. “My parents would bring me up here every Sunday for pizza. My dad would drive on U.S. 1. That was before the turnpike was built.”
“I have fond memories of Sal and Flo — two of the kindest people I have ever met. They loved their customers,” he said. “This is the best pizza in the world.”
The Greenberg family, a group of about 14, were trading slices across the aisle as the meal was drawing to a close.
“Anybody want any clam?” one of them asked.
Art Greenberg, 95, the patriarch, said he has been coming there since 1940 and would bring his sons, Larry Greenberg and Allen Greenberg, most Sunday nights. They were there celebrating Gail Greenberg’s birthday and Art would likely come back for his 96th birthday in March.
Ellen Greenberg keeps a photo of her daughter, Allison Greenberg, now 23, on her phone. It shows her at 2 months old wearing a T-shirt a friend gave them that has a picture of the Sally’s emblem on the pizza box.
Many of Sally’s customers are Yale University students or alumni who make a point of stopping by when they come through New Haven.
Cara Latham and her husband Ted Latham brought their four children, and an international student who is staying with them, as they were driving home to Philadelphia.
“We used to come as often as we could. It hasn’t changed at all,” said Cara Latham, who was at Yale’s Music School from 1994 to 1996 earning a master’s degree. From 1992 to 2000, Ted Latham got three degrees, including a doctorate in music theory.
“We were hoping the stars would align and we would actually be able to get in,” Cara Latham said.
Bernie Levine, 92, affectionally known to the Consiglios as ‘Uncle Bernie,’ has been eating at Sally’s since he was a teenager and always gets the classic tomato sauce with parmesan cheese. “It’s automatic,” he says. As soon as they see him, the order goes in the oven.
His son, Ron Levine and daughter-in-law Beth Zonis, who are from Massachusetts, take him there when they travel from Lexington.
The Hedman family, who come from Shelton, Orange and Trumbull, were entertaining their relatives the Brantleys from Roswell, Ga. They spent an hour outside before getting in and were then waiting for their pizzas.
“It’s a wait, but it’s worth it,” Bob Hedway Sr. said.
They gave a shout-out to Lorenzo Lawlor.
“Lorenzo has to stay. Lorenzo is the best. He makes it all work,” Bob Hedman said.
The Altschulers expressed the sentiment of the room.
“Hopefully the pizza stays the same. You go there and you look at this place and you say, ‘what is this?’ You forget about the bathrooms, you forget everything when the pizza comes,” Lou Altschuler said. “That’s all that is important.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Beth Zonis’ name.