Say it ain’t so, iconic NJ pizza joint all but destroyed by fire
No. Not Santillo’s.
Santillo’s Brick Oven Pizza is the very famous, little, unassuming and award-winning pizza joint that has been part of Elizabeth, New Jersey for more than 100 years. It’s that place that looks like a little house and to enter it you have to go down an alley between buildings. Like I said, unassuming.
It dates back to 1918 when the current owner’s grandfather Lou Santillo opened up about a mile from where it eventually landed on Broad Street in 1957. Grandson and current owner Al Santillo near retirement age himself always had worried about a fire.
He explained to northjersey.com,
When they built this place 100 or whatever years ago, they built the roof too close to the oven. Nowadays the ceiling has to be ten or 12 feet above the oven because heat gets trapped around the oven and everything else can catch on fire.
Saturday morning it finally happened. It was a little after 9:30 when all those years of having a bad feeling appeared before Al’s eyes as he prepped for opening. A fire was in the ceiling.
The blaze was called in by a passerby and a neighbor at 9:39 a.m. and crews responded. But the damage happened very quickly in the dry, old building. Santillo says the fire spread so fast and described it as going up like a box of matches.
No one was injured and the cause is being investigated, authorities say.
But now what?
It's a big mess in there, you can't recognize anything because all the stuff is melted or covered in black stuff, and there is like two inches of water they pumped so much water in there," Santillo said. “The most extensive damage is the room where I make the pizza. The rest of the house don't look all that bad to me, but we've got to get an engineer over here.
And that room where he makes the pizzas, that room where the magic happens, well, that is Santillo’s. Al says he doesn’t know what he’s going to do.
The ominous words 'indefinitely closed' have been used to describe the situation. Santillo says he was thinking of packing it in and retiring, but then something happened. People who love the iconic pizzeria began speaking up with positivity and support.
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The mayor of Elizabeth, Chris Bollwage, offered his concern on Facebook and personally called Al to ask what he could do.
State Senator Mike Testa posted on Facebook too and sounds determined to even get Barstool Sports and David Portnoy to help.
The general public and Santillo’s many fans in the area have been equally supportive.
It really reinvigorated my spirit when all these people reached out to me," Santillo said, “I was thinking about retiring but here's where everybody wants to see me. I'll see what it's going to be to get the place open again and I'll try to give it another shot
So at this point we can only pray to the pizza gods and wait to see.
Restaurants that closed in New Jersey During 2023
Gallery Credit: Dan Alexander
Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski only.
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