With news breaking this month the Ray's Pizza on Prince Street could soon be closing (erm, maybe) and lawsuits between various Ray's Pizzas a regular occurrence, the good folks at Slice decided to dig into some old phone books and try to definitively say which Ray's has reigned the longest. The short answer? The Ray's on Prince. But the long story (which shouldn't be confused with who has the oldest pizzeria) is a little more complicated than that.
Here's the important fact: Ralph Cuomo and his partners opened Ray's Pizzeria on Prince Street in 1959. At the time it was the only pizzeria in Manhattan with the name Ray...but it wasn't the first. According to Slice's Scott Wiener, there is evidence of at least two that had come (and gone) before then. The genesis of the Prince Street name is a bit odd but it appears that Cuomo (who had himself some serious mob connections) simply felt that "Ralph was too feminine." (He also later claimed that Ray was a nickname people called him). Still, by the phone books, the Ray's on Prince is pretty clearly the patient zero for the outbreak of Ray's that then smothered our city for decades.
Five years after Cuomo and co. opened their first Ray's, they opened a second one at 1073 First Avenue, which they quickly sold to a man named Frances Giaimo who then sold it to a man named Rosolino Mangano. And with Mangano Ray's were never the same. At first Mangano "gave ambitious family members and immigrants the opportunity to run his stores, resulting in the creation of a mini-chain" but soon enough former employees figured out they could call their own pizza joints variations on the Ray's name. In 1973 The Famous Ray's Pizza on the corner of 6th Avenue and 11th Street opened (owner Mario DiRienzo said Ray was a nickname from his town in Italy), which led Mangano to change his restaurant's name to Original Ray's Pizza in 1976. In the 1980s Mangano renamed his joints Famous Original Ray's and filed for a trademark...which he then used in a series of lawsuits that continue to this day.
So now you know: the actual "original" Ray's in New York pizza is just plain old Ray's, not Original Ray's or Famous Ray's or Ray Bari or Famous Original Ray's. Now head over there and grab a hot slice of history, before it's too late.