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.