Delivering slices bigger than your head, Benny Fierro’s & Benny Velino’s embodies the classic NYC by the slice style shop. Ryan Smith is a New Jersey native, executing on a delicious slice and bringing the community together from working with local creatives such as John Faust Jr. or having a song by Fedd dedicated to his shop in the Southside of Pittsburgh, “Benny Fierro’s”.
Who are you?
I'm Ryan Smith I'm the owner of Benny Fierros in South Side Pittsburgh and Benny Velinos in Downtown Morgantown. I'm from Montclair, NJ and I've lived in South Side for the past four years and change.
What is the value of a slice and why do you think it is necessary? Explain the experience of a single slice.
I feel like the slice is very culturally significant in the NYC metro area. Growing up, no matter what part of town I was in, there was always a solid slice spot within walking distance (shouts to Soho, Naunas, Mr. Dinos and Villa Victoria in Montclair). Anytime I was on the go, on a budget or just needed something in between meals, I could grab something from a local pizza place. I feel like some of the old school Pittsburgh spots have the same vibe (Fioris, Mineos, Aiellos, etc.), but it's not as much as a widespread thing out here. It's cool to operate a place that serves by the slice because it can really be frequented by anyone and everyone.
What makes your Benny’s locations different from the others?
The reason all the Bennys have different last names is to create a unique local feel to each one. Every store is supposed to be there as a part of the Downtown they are in, rather than feel like some uniform chain. The main thing that attracted me to opening my own was the whole community aspect of it. Obviously we are here to sell pizza and make money but the fun part is getting to know everyone in the neighborhood and using the space however we can to serve and collaborate with the community. We recently did a new run of shirts with our friend John Faust Jr. who has his own brand called Neverminds. Fedd (local rap artist) just named one of the songs on his mixtape "North Side Shit" after us and when he comes in we always try to blast his music and everyone sings along. I was jumping around like a little kid singing it in here when it came out. Things like that are what makes the whole pizza game rewarding for me.
The Pizza Cognition Theory states that "the first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes becomes, for him, pizza." Do you remember your first slice?
I can't say that I remember my first slice because I was probably too young to remember anything. We lived around the corner from this place called Naunas Bella Casa in the early 90s, so it was probably from there. I actually ended up working there in between jobs before I moved to Pittsburgh. They recently closed after 35 years, which is a damn shame. I think Naunas was pretty consistent with the standard, quality NY/NJ pizza that I love. I can always get down with some fancy wood fire pizza or whatever, but the hole in the wall pizza by the slice will always be my favorite.
We know you can make a delicious pizza pie, but do you have a dish that could rival that?
Honestly, no. I got into the pizza game without any real restaurant experience, so thats definitely the food I can do best. I do like to cook and I make a mean chicken chili, but I can't really make anything as well as I can make pizza. I feel like sometimes I try to wing it and make certain things without following a recipe and totally screw it up. I wish I had more time to cook.
There are roughly 2,000 pizza shops in New York City. Have you ever thought of moving back to the homeland and possibly opening up a shop? Or is the amount of pizzerias overwhelming?
The idea has certainly been thrown around before, but NYC/NJ is definitely oversaturated with pizza shops, which is pretty intimidating, If we ever did, it would have to be the perfect spot and the perfect situation. There are a few areas in NJ that I've had my eye on for a few years.
Photos By: Garrett "G" Yurisko