What was your first job in the restaurant business and how did that lead to Amorina?
When I had two young children, my husband and I opened a small restaurant in Prospect Heights. Except for waiting tables (and slinging some pizzas) as a college student many years earlier, I had had absolutely no experience in the restaurant world. My husband’s family had operated a café and gelateria in Italy, so even though it was not a restaurant, he had spent his entire life in food service. When Albano, my husband, came here from Italy he did not plan on going into food service; but it turned out to be a strong impulse that he finally had to follow. It also turned out that he was a spectacular cook! So, with a law degree, young children and very little money, I was thrown into the life of a restaurant owner. We opened Amorina a couple of years after our first restaurant; Aliseo.
You make Roman style pizza at the restaurant. Can you explain the style and fill us in on why you decided to serve it in the first place.
There are two aspects to that: Like the Napoletano style, Roman pizza is generally, an individual size pizza, which is what we mostly produce, and what we are known for. What distinguishes it from Napoletano style, for example, is more explorative toppings, its pronounced crust and structure, also some nuances like its cooking temperature and conditions. The other part of the style is the increasingly popular focaccia-based slice pizza “al taglio,” tipically baked in a cast iron pan. We also have this at Amorina for takeout only.
We chose to play with Roman style pizza because the space we took over already had two stone deck ovens and we just loved what they were capable of so we did what they are best at.
You serve pizzas made with organic tomatoes, local mozzarella, Slow Food certified salumi, and dough made using natural fermentation. Has this always been the case or have you changed your practices over time?
From the outset we have used organic tomatoes and flour. Our cheese has always been locally made. That is not a change for us. We have always used local produce. The only change in that regard is that we now more stable sources of local & organic produce than before and putting them to better use. We have been working with some flour from the Greenmarket and produce from Gotham Greens and local farms more and more. We have placed more emphasis on our greens and salad offerings. Those items have become major drivers on our menu. We are also making some pastas in house.
The most major change is that we stopped using fresh/baker’s yeast in our pizza three years ago. We now maintain a sourdough starter, made in the most traditional method. We’ve been very excited about that, and very pleased with the results!
Amorina has been around since before Italian pizza styles gained mainstream recognition. Have you seen your clientele change along with that shift?
When we first opened we were mostly a neighborhood spot. We have always been considered a great alternative for people with children. Parents can make their children very happy while not sacrificing their own adult tastes and quality. Now, while we remain a major destination for local kids, we have seen a big growth in the young adult – 20 & 30 somethings. They appreciate our price point and quality and flavors. We also get compliments on our playlist, which I enjoy!
What was your biggest challenge in the early days of running the restaurant and what are your biggest challenges now?
In the early days the biggest challenge for me was, without question, adjusting to the extreme hours while also raising my children. I often worked until late at night, and then had to be up early to get my kids to school. Of course, it disrupted our weekends as well. It completely upended our family routines. That was hellish.
Challenges have changed. Promotion and marketing have become our biggest challenge, though time management does remains an issue. I am used to the hours, though it can still wear me down. We work so hard on our product and do not have adequate time or budget for promotion. Napolitano style pizza has been very popular over the last decade and so the challenge has been to get recognized in this vast landscape of new artisanal pizza restaurants. Promotion has always taken a back seat to working on our product. We have suffered because of that.
What’s next for Amorina? Do you have any expansion or menu changes in the works?
We are considering an expansion of Amorina and are very anxious to embark on a new aspect of the business or a new venue. We are exploring options, but do not have anything imminent.
In terms of menu, we are contemplating some expansion as well; We will be using more of our house made pasta, perhaps adding gelato, or beer on tap. In the fall we might open for brunch again.
*This post is part of a month-long series featuring women in the pizza industry in honor of Women’s History Month!