A lifelong pizzaiolo who spent years in fine dining on the Strip before helping open Fremont East’s flavorful Evel Pie, Vincent Rotolo has found his dream gig. It’s Good Pie, the tiny new pizza shop opening at Pawn Plaza on February 9, which just happens to be National Pizza Day. Good Pie will celebrate by participating in the national charitable event Slice Out Hunger by offering $1 slices until 2 p.m. with proceeds benefitting the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth.
Rotolo will serve four pizza styles at Good Pie, but the focus will be on the Grandma Pie, a super-specific slice hard to find beyond certain neighborhoods in New York City. “It’s a perfect square, not rectangular like a Sicilian, and it’s a thin and crispy, almost like a Chicago cracker-thin,” he says. “The origins come from the ’30s and ’40s in the Italian neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, when mothers and grandmothers would go buy this dough to keep on hand for when kids needed something quick and easy that would make them happy. Then in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the pizzerias there started selling this style. There are generations of kids that grew up on that. It’s kind of the unsung hero of pizza for me.”
As Rotolo serves up the pizza that recaptures the flavors and feelings of his youth, he’s hoping to connect on a deeper level with the community he now calls home: Downtown Las Vegas. “This is my neighborhood. It’s a three-minute walk from home to the business. It feels special. It feels like home.”
What brought you to Las Vegas? I’ve been here since late 2011 but my father moved year ten years prior from New York. He thought he was going to slow down and retire so he moved to Florida but it was too slow for him so he moved to Vegas. He wanted a little action. I’d come to visit two or three times a year, and then later when his health was declining I wanted to be closer to him. I came to that point in life where you shift gears and start taking care of your parents the way they did when you were younger.
And what brought you back to pizza? My career path was a little different. I started making pizza as a kid at John’s Pizzeria of Bleecker Street. I eventually shifted gears when I noticed the real money was in the front of the house, so by age 14 I was a busser and that took me on a different career path. My first job here was at Bellagio, at Circo and Le Cirque.
But I was always a pizza man in my home life. I have a brick oven at my house and I had a lot of pizza parties. I guess I was living the life of a pizzaiolo in my free time and running restaurants professionally. My love was always pizza. In October 2015 I was shopping around a business plan and I knew the [Downtown] Evel Pie space was available and had been [Radio City Pizzeria] before, and I got a meeting with [restaurateur] Sonny [Ahuja] who at that time was leading the project. So that led to me being hired as a consultant to create the recipes. They painted the picture of what their vision was, a throwback to the ’70s and Evel Knievel and New York pizza, and I had a lot of fun and did a lot of research.
Evel Pie took off pretty quickly. Was it always your goal to eventually move on and do your own thing? For a short time I entertained the thought of becoming a partner and staying but it didn’t work out. The priorities are different for me. What I learned is that every great pizzeria has a hero. Years ago, that was always the name of the place—when pizzerias were first coming to fruition in America, you put your family name on your interpretation of pizza. At Evel Pie, they’re honoring a great hero in Evel Knievel and that’s awesome. But I wanted something more pizza-related. And I found the Grandma Pizza story, the hero I want to pay tribute to and tell the story of, what grandmothers mean to food culture and food families. It was something I could connect to on an emotional level. And I didn’t want to be narcissistic and call it “Vinny’s Pizza.” That didn’t make me feel good.
What is it about the Grandma Pie that resonates with you? You know, you grow up on a certain thing and then as an adult, you search for it. You crave it. This style is done in New York but I feel like the story isn’t told well. If you’re not in New York, it’s really hard to get, and even when you’re there you have to travel deep into certain neighborhoods to get it. I wanted to recapture those feelings from my youth and bring this authentic New York style that’s under-done and under-appreciated.
That’s not all you’re doing at Good Pie. So we are leading with the Grandma but also doing a Brooklyn-style round pizza, which is traditional but really is a more artisanal approach. The other styles are Detroit pizza, which is like a Sicilian deep-dish, really fluffy with that caramelized cheese crust, and then the fourth is the gluten-free.
You live Downtown and Good Pie is at Pawn Plaza. How important was it to stay in the neighborhood? My dream has always been to have my own pizza shop and there were a lot of years of my life where I thought I would give up on it. It’s been a 20-year journey for me. I never really felt Vegas was my home until I lived Downtown. I’m a New Yorker in Vegas but now it feels like this is my home and I’m really pleased to feel like a part of this community. I want Good Pie to be that meeting place where we went as kids after school, a special place where you feel safe and welcome, your clubhouse growing up. Even more important than making the pizza really good is making the community feel like they have a place.
One of the things I’m most excited about is starting a relationship with the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth from day one, serving those dollar slices. That’s the beginning, I hope, of a search for one kid out there who may be homeless who just needs a break. I want to bring that kid in and give him a job and help teach the life skills somebody like that needs. I’ve been been in positions where I had people working for me but never in a position where I’ve created jobs, and I created six jobs in a neighborhood I care about. That’s a new feeling for me. I’ve been blessed. So I’m looking forward to helping someone the way I’ve been helped. The generosity of the community in Las Vegas is unreal. It’s a special place.
Good Pie Pawn Plaza, 725 Las Vegas Blvd. South #140, 702-844-2700. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.