This week we chatted with Jacob Petrera, one of the owners of Vinnie’s Pizzeria in Williamsburg. Vinnie’s is known for a few things — its eccentric toppings (beloved by both carnivores and vegans) and wacky ideas, like the pizza box pizza (a pizza served in a box made entirely from pizza).
Inspired by their time working at Antonio’s, a late night UMass student favorite (they had to put out barricades when the bars closed) Petrera and two friends purchased Vinnie’s — which has been around since 1960 — in 2007, right when Williamsburg started to become the hipster haven we now know it as.
Business was great, but when the pandemic first hit, he thought it would be the end of an era for them.
“It was crazy. The first two, three weeks I thought we were done,” he said. “There was nobody in the streets and nobody was ordering for delivery even because everyone had gone and stocked up at the supermarket.”
Vinnie’s was lucky — Petrera and his partner managed to secure a PPP loan in the first round (“super challenging”), but the money didn’t come through until July.
“We kept just having to empty out our bank accounts to pay our guys. We weren’t ready as a business for that kind of loss.”
What really enabled them to stay afloat was the generosity of their customers. Petrera and his partner launched an initiative where the restaurant would match every pizza purchased for essential workers.
“I think we probably would have folded if it had not gone so well. Our online followers, friends, army, they really came through,” he said. “They were donating $300 for 20 pies to Elmhurst Hospital, it was amazing.”
A lesser-earning but equally heartwarming initiative gave people the option to tip their delivery driver $1 to look them straight into their eyes and offer some kind words — priceless at a time when human interaction was scarce.
While Petrera says things are finally starting to go back to normal, nothing has compared to Vinnie’s busiest day yet: when Joe Biden’s presidency was confirmed.
“It was a Saturday and they announced it and it was mayhem, ” he said. “It was just awesome.”
Going forward, Petrera plans to only offer outdoor seating as long as the city continues to allow it.
“I don’t want to alienate people who aren’t ready to go inside restaurants and I don’t want to have those fights with people about masks,” he said. I don’t want my staff to have to be the police.”
And of course, we didn’t let Petrera go without having him tell us his favorite place to grab a slice when he’s not at work: Di Fara in Midwood.
Check out Vinnie’s menu website to order and its Instagram page for some drool-worthy content.
Keep reading for:
- More than 200 free live music events
- Juneteenth celebrations
- Food-centric films
- Urban exploration
- Grant money for artists
- A beach getaway for under $25
In other news, Epicenter’s one year anniversary is approaching — keep an eye out for an exciting announcement from us this week!
Lovely readers, please help us grow our community:
- Support the work we do by making a donation. Even $5 helps us pay our freelancers.
- Pay it forward and tell your friends and fam to subscribe.
- Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
At your leisure …
Every week, neighbor and acclaimed author Radha Vatsal will be providing her recommendations for what to read and watch throughout the summer.
There are several films about food out there, but these two are favorites for the way in which the chefs are so principled and treat food preparation almost like a spiritual practice.
The Danish film Babette’s Feast from the 1980s is based on a story by Isak Dinesen. It takes place in the 19th century, in the home of two devout elderly sisters who live in a remote village. Their housekeeper, Babette, is a refugee from France. When Babette wins the lottery she decides to use all of her winnings to cook them a “real French meal.” It turns out that Babette was once the head chef at one of the most famous restaurants in Paris. Although she knows her multi-course dinner will be more elaborate and exotic than anything that the sisters and their friends have ever tasted or can appreciate, Babette cooks the meal to thank the old women for their many years of hospitality.
Babette’s Feast can be streamed on HBO MAX or rented on Amazon for $3.99.
In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Jiro Ono, the owner and chef at a three-star Michelin restaurant in a Tokyo subway station, strives for perfection in each item he prepares. No detail is left to chance — from the hot towels that his customers are handed to the selection of fish at the market. The documentary explores the impact of Jiro’s relentless quest on his two grown sons, who barely saw their father while they were growing up, and now live in his shadow. 10 years of apprenticeship are required before Jiro’s chefs are allowed to cook eggs. After 200 failed attempts, one young man says Jiro finally told him, “Now this is how it should be done. I was so happy [to hear that],” he goes on, “that I cried.”
Jiro Dreams of Sushi can be rented on Amazon for $3.99.
ON THE POD
Want to learn more about Radha? Check out last week’s podcast, where we feature her in our “neighbor” section. Our reporters also speak with advocates about the future of the popular yet contentious Open Streets program. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode, which dives into the mayoral election and ranked-choice voting. You can listen on your preferred platform here.
OUT & ABOUT
Make Music Day
This free worldwide celebration of music takes place on Monday, June 21. There are more than 200 free performances of various genres taking place all over the city throughout the day, including Jordan Vergara from “In the Heights”, Gooseberry, DJ Sensei Massive, SoulCake and many more — what makes this festival unique is that it’s open to anyone who wants to participate. See a complete list of New York City performances here.
Sure, we are all familiar with Sheep’s Meadow, but there is a lot more to 843-acre Central Park. For those who want to become better acquainted, Central Park Conservancy offers a variety of low-cost family friendly tours. Learn about the North Woods this Thursday, June 17, at 3:30 p.m. with guides who share the area’s secrets and explain the park’s complex ecosystem ($5 per family). And have you heard of Seneca Village? It was the largest community of Black property owners in pre-Civil War New York, and parts of it are still visible in the park today. Learn about this interesting part of the city’s history this weekend — there are multiple tours available ($15 per person). View a complete list of available tours here.
Juneteenth in Queens
Join Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman to celebrate Juneteenth — a day that commemorates the emancipation of those who were enslaved in the U.S — in Queens. This is the first year the day has been recognized as an official public holiday in New York. There will be virtual panels throughout the week on topics like the Great Migration and how it impacted Queens, systemic racism and its effects on mental health and the role music has played in the way Black people communicate their trauma. The celebration culminates with an in-person event this Saturday, June 19, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Roy Wilkins Park in Jamaica. There will be music, yoga, art, dance, local vendors and more. Pre-registration is required for both virtual and in-person events.
New Jerusalem Worship Center in Jamaica will also be hosting a Juneteenth community celebration on Saturday, June 19, from 12 to 2 p.m. at 122-05 Smith St., which will feature music, spoken word, food, vendors AND a vaccine booth.
Rock & roll, behind the scenes
Join Bob Gruen, one of the most famous photographers in rock and roll, for a discussion of his new autobiography, “Right Place, Right Time: The Life of a Rock & Roll Photographer” at Time Out Market in Brooklyn this Thursday, June 17, from 7 to 8 p.m. Gruen is known for his work with John Lennon and Yoko Ono (he was Lennon’s personal photographer at one point), Ike and Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and many other big names.Register for the free event here.
River to River
The free annual summer arts festival was created after 9/11 to highlight the role that creativity plays in the process of recovery and resilience, themes which are incredibly relevant in a city coming back to life, post-pandemic. The event, which runs through Sunday, June 27, features a variety of free programming, both in-person and virtual. We’re looking forward to checking out “Womxn in Windows,” a multi-part video installation exploring the intersection of culture and society as it relates to female identity. The videos will play 24 hours a day through June 27 in storefront windows in the Seaport District. Learn more about the festival’s offerings and RSVP here.
GIVE & GET HELP
Grant money for artists
New York Foundation for the Arts has recently launched City Artist Corps Grants, a recovery initiative to help artists who were impacted by Covid-19. Three thousand artists will receive one-time grants of $5,000 to help them continue their work and also engage the community. There are three application cycles, the first closes on Tuesday, June 22, at 10 a.m. Learn more and apply here.
Astoria Food Pantry is looking for some extra hands, particularly to help with donation drives. If you want to volunteer, send them a DM via Instagram or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Here to Sunday, the Brooklyn gift shop and art exhibition space is hosting an art fundraiser raffle that will benefit Heart of Dinner, which delivers meals to Asian Elders, and South Brooklyn Mutual Aid. To enter, Venmo @heretosunday to purchase raffle tickets — they are $10 each or three for $25. The raffle ends on Tuesday, June 22, at 11:59. Learn more and view the art here.
Sign up for our weekly education-focused newsletter, The Unmuted, here.
Food benefits for all
Every New York City public school family is eligible for up to $1,320 in Coronavirus Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) to help cover the cost of missed school meals during remote learning. The amount received will depend on how many days a student was in-person versus online. Benefits are paid per child. Families enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will see funds on their EBT card. Here’s the price breakdown:
For each month online, one to 12 days: $82
For each month online, more than 12 days: $132
Governor Andrew Cuomo said the first of two payments will start going out on Monday, June 14.
High school waitlists are open
You or your child can go to MySchools.nyc to sign up for waitlists, which are totally optional. Other options include calling the New York City Department of Education at (718) 935-2009 or emailing email@example.com. Waitlists will stay open until mid-August. Remember, if your child already received an offer for a third-choice school, the student is automatically waitlisted for their first and second, too. Also, Specialized High Schools do not use waitlists or make waitlist offers.
Schools survey deadline extended
Parents, teachers and students in grades 6-12 now have until Friday, June 18, to fill out the 2020-21 New York City Schools Survey. Take the survey here. The access code is “f” followed by your child’s nine-digit Student Identification (OSIS) Number.
Known as “The City by the Sea,” Long Beach in Nassau County is one of our favorite escapes from the city — it’s just an hour away yet feels distinctly removed and vacation-y. The easiest way to get there is by Long Island Rail Road, which offers package deals that include beach entrance and a round-trip ticket: $26.74 from Manhattan and Brooklyn or $23.25 from Jamaica.
Pack a cooler, an umbrella and a beach read (here are Radha’s recs) and spend the day relaxing. If you’re the type of person who needs to be doing something, you can rent a bike and cruise along the 2.5-mile boardwalk, or if you’re feeling adventurous, take a surfing lesson — all ages welcome.
For classic beach eats (fried clams, shrimp tacos) try Riptides 11561 on the boardwalk. For a more elevated dining experience — and excellent cocktails — try Lost at Sea. The seafood-focused restaurant doesn’t have a website, but you can make a reservation through its Instagram page or by calling (516) 632-5263. And of course, what’s a trip to the beach without stopping for one of Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices?
We want to see, hear, feel, support your art and response to this moment. To submit a poem, short story, artwork or any shareable experience, email us. If your work is selected, you will receive a $100 stipend and become part of our growing network of artists.
This week we welcome Yadna A. Prasad. Prasad is a high school student with a passion for writing, history and photography. They love that photography allows them to encapsulate moments in time, and particularly enjoy photographing parts of New York.
“Each part of our city has a different personality with unique features found all across the boroughs.”
Prasad’s work will be featured in an exhibition opening on June 16th at Tribeca Community on Display, a community gallery in the windows of 60 Hudson Street, which is itself an Art Deco landmark. See more of their work here.