As an addendum to a recent episode of Vice/Munchies's The Pizza Show, Antoinette Balzano—granddaughter of Anthony "Totonno" Pero (that Totonno)—tells her grandfather's story and importance in NYC's pizza story in her own words.
As she explains it, her grandfather emigrated to the United States from Naples as a young man, where he approached Gennaro Lombardi about upgrading his grocery business into a pizzeria. As you might have guessed, Lombardi agreed, and Lombardi's became the first pizzeria in America in the early 1900s.
But Balzano wishes her grandfather—who left Lombardi's to open Totonno's on Coney island in 1924—got more of the credit he deserves.
"Since I was a little girl I learned that he brought pizza to America. I'm 65-years-old and I've known that since I could comprehend the English language," she recalls. "[Totonno's has] been there 92 years, and I say that we are the oldest pizzeria continuously run by the same family, because (the original) Lombardi's closed; they sold it."
While Balzano doesn't critique the Lombardi's, calling them a "wonderful family," she firmly believes it's her grandfather who deserves his name in history alongside the pizzeria.
It kills me—you could take a knife and rip my heart out that's how much that kills me—when you think of him coming over on that boat, in the steerage, probably people vomiting all over him down there, leaving his family behind, and 92 years later we're talking about Mozart and Socrates, and Totonno's gets no credit. That's a disgrace.