Pizza Culture, and Where to Find It

hobbess wonders why independent pizza places don't seem to be doing as well as the national chains. "It seems to me that the underlying problem is that these mom 'n' pop places serve the same generic-tasting pizzas as the national chains with the same doughy crust and the same pepperoni toppings," says hobbess. "Why don't these independents use coal- or wood-fired ovens to make their pizzas?" Or, "Why not throw in a specialty pizza like an arugula pizza or something different on a rotating or seasonal basis? Something different that people can't get at national chains, a reason to go to them over the nationals?"

Passadumkeg thinks that this may be a regional issue—and an issue of pizza culture. "A lot of the old Northeastern cities continue to have large Italian populations and it is there that one finds the true mecca of the mom & pop pizza shop," says Passadumkeg, who thinks "if one has not grown up in the Italian 'pizza culture,' they may be at a loss to know how to repeat it." Hounds from the thriving "pizza cultures" of New Haven, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, and New Jersey agree. "I grew up in Rhode Island, and there are still tons of thriving indie pizza parlors," says Bob W. "Where I live now, in the outer suburbs of DC in Virginia, there was nothing here 20 years ago, and no long-standing Italian or Greek communities. So the pizza places that open around here are almost always chain operations. Conversely, there are tons of mom-and-pop Vietnamese, Afghan, Indian, Latin American eateries," he notes—food cultures with the critical mass necessary to support culinary greatness, just not pizza.

In areas without a pizza culture, says Steve, "small pizza outlets are started up by people who are more entrepreneurially inclined than culinarily. They start off with a business model in which they purchase already made dough, canned 'pizza' sauce, and packages of preshredded pizza cheese," he says. If an area doesn't have a tradition of great local pizza, market forces allow terrible pizza places to survive, and it's a race to the cheapest, most mass-produced bottom.

Discuss: Why don't more mom 'n pop pizza places do better?

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