Call it a tale of two restaurants. At first glance, Italian Village Pizzeria looks like a typical pizza joint with Formica booths and, near the counter, glass cases filled with pizza pies, but since 2007, has also featured an elegant dining room in back.
On a recent busy Thursday evening, Leida Rosenberg and her husband, Barry Spielvogel, are eating in the dining room, something of a weekly ritual for the couple. Spielvogel’s favorites are the baked clams and eggplant parmigiana. He also appreciates the wait staff’s attentiveness. Rosenberg, who’s been eating at Italian Village for more than 40 years, favors the pizza. “We see some of the same couples here every week and love that as family business, the owner is always around,” she said.
With that, owner Joseph Notaro strolls by. “I hope you’re saying good things about me,” Notaro said smiling wide.
The Sicilian-born Notaro, 74, opened the pizzeria, on First Avenue just south of 80th Street, in 1970. The monthly rent back then was $300; there were only three tables. A plain slice cost 25 cents and the eggplant parmigiana hero set you back $1.15. “I spent about two and a half years at two restaurants learning to cook and the food business, but I wanted to do it myself,” he said.
Despite more than four decades in the business, Notaro stills works seven days a week. Until about seven years ago, he was still doing did much of the cooking, he said.
Notaro, who bought the building in 1985, works alongside his sister in-law and niece, Anna and Rosa Coniglio, but his right-hand man is Tony Tardugno.
In 1972, Tardugno saw a job listing in an Italian newspaper for a delivery boy. He got the job and never left. Nearly 44 years later, as manager, he orders ingredients and supplies, and still makes pizza and dough every day. “Forty-four years ... same job, same wife,” Tardugno, 65, said with a chuckle.
Also, having dinner that Thursday evening is Rick Sacco, who works nearby as a concierge. Calling himself, “a casual type-of-guy” Sacco always eats in the front room. “Everything’s so good and always fresh,” he said.
Rick Kramer, waiting for his takeout order by the front counter, called Italian Village “the best around.” He gets slices and either the eggplant or meatball hero. Of the “huge” heroes, Kramer said they could make two meals, though he usually makes it one.
Business is good, Notaro said, and neither he nor Tardugno are considering retirement at the moment.
“I feel good,” Tardugno said, “and I want to work.”