Slice reader Matt Olson (aka olsomatt) recommended this post from Pizzacentric to Slice. And while Pizzacentric has been on the Slice radar, I had not yet seen this post and accompanying chart that measures the growth of New York pizzerias using data collected from the Yellow Pages microfilm collection at the New York Public Library. I personally love(d) the Yellow Pages and lament their absence in my life since the internet happened. They were a great way to get a lay of the land (commercially speaking) but have essentially become an under-utilized reference now relegated to the task of propping up short people in low chairs (that and demonstrating feats of strength). But here Michael Berman of Pizzacentric has harnessed the power of the Yellow Pages to chart the growth of pizza domination in the most pizza loving city in the States. Here's are some of the conclusions that he was able to draw:
The count is not definitive, but the results are telling: the greatest decade-over-decade citywide increase came between 1960-1970 (+231%). Factoring in the two years of available data prior to 1960, the 1958-1970 increase was 735%. Wow!
Oh yeah and if you visit the original post you can click on the graph to show a chart of the raw data.
Using the numbers as a platform, the post launches into an exploration of the ascent of pizzerias in the city. One of the largest contributors to the expansion of shops across the boroughs, the post goes on to say, was a restaurant equipment shop owner names Frank Mastro. Mastro developed the gas deck oven by working with Blodgett company. The benefit:
Gas made pizza-making much easier. A craft that was limited to bakers skilled in working very hot, huge, and finicky coal ovens became a career for people without baking or pizza skills. Instead of stoking coal, pizzaioli now had only to turn a dial.
The fact is that for all the love we have for pies produced by coal-burning ovens, we wouldn't even be in a place call ourselves pizza fanatics if it weren't for these oven innovations. It made me realize that the gas-oven really is the pizza history hero! How did this not occur to me before? Without them pizza could never have gained the culinary foothold that it enjoys in America today. It kind of makes me think that Frank Mastro is like America's pizza Johnny Appleseed.
I dug around a little to find out more about Frank Mastro and came across this truly remarkable video on Mastro's Wolrd's Fair Pizzeria: