The History of Old Forge Pizza - FOX56 News Special Report
A little under 3 hours away from New York City is Old Forge, Pennsylvania - a town of less than 10,00 people covering three and half square miles. Despite the region's deep roots in coal mining, Old Forge is mainly known for one (tasty) staple - pizza.
Elio Ghigiarelli owns Elio G's pizza, one of the many area pizzerias serving up trays (not pies) of red and white cuts (not slices) with customers coming from all over the United States. "I'm a big fan of rectangle pizza and the person I was meeting for work mentioned that he knew about this pizza place and it was the best in town so I came over here," Ghigiarelli said.
But how did the "Old Forge" style come to be?
While some people toss around wacky urban legends of where trays and cuts came from, Elio says the idea came to be how almost anything good begins - over a a few drinks.
"My family originally owned the Ghigiarellis pizza that's up the road, my grandmother and my grandfather opened up there and my grandfather ran a card game up at the bar and my grandmother started making pizzas for all of the card players."
While she may not have realized it at the time, Grandma Ghigiarelli started a trend that a region almost immediately got hooked on.
"From 1926 to 1965 my grandmother only made one type of pizza which we call the "nonni" because I called her nonni as my grandmother," Elio said. While Nonni's pizza looks similar to the similar current form of Old Forge pizza her 1926 staple was made with hot peppers and anchovy paste.
Following in Nonni's footsteps, the coal mining community couldn't get enough! In 1962, another Old Forge staple restaurant, Arcaro & Gennell, opened up just a few doors down from Grandma Ghigirelli's pizza shop.
"We live here, we work here, we eat here, our family is here - our employees are like our family, " Angelo Genell said. " So we have a big extended family of customers."
Angelo Genell has been holding down the family business for over 40 years - sometimes working 7 days a week! "A lot of times we come to work everyday (and ask) 'are we still doing this?' But we don't come in and consider it work, it's our life."
From trays of red to double crust white, the ovens at Arcaro & Gennell are almost always cooking trays with some going far beyond Lackawanna County.
"I send it anywhere in the United States without a problem. I did send some over to Afghanistan a while back with some military guys who wanted to send it over for the Super Bowl a bunch of years ago," Genell said.
With so many pizzerias and only so many people, you may think these two titans of pizza are in fierce competition with one another, but it couldn't be further from the truth.
"There's a kinship that goes back generations and I cannot honestly say there's no one in this business in this town that I wouldn't call a friend," Elio Ghigiarelli said.
No matter the style, the toppings or the pizzeria sitting down with your family and friends over a tray of pizza will never go out of style.
"The best part about it is you've got people that you don't know that come in and they're customers but within a few months you feel like their friends and in a few years you feel like their family," Ghigiarelli said.
For pizza fans all over United States, the "Pizza Capitol of the World" is more than a pit stop, it's a cut of culinary history...no matter which pizza shop you choose.