4. Lombardi’s was the first pizzeria in the United States
Established in 1905, Lombardi’s Pizzeria has become a staple in the Little Italy community. Lombardi’s was started by Italian immigrant Gennaro Lombardi in 1897 as a small grocery store located at 53 Spring Street. Originally, the store served tomato pies wrapped in paper and tied with a string during lunchtime, designed for the area’s industrial workers. This occurred until 1905, when Lombardi received a license to operate a pizzeria.
According to the Pizza Hall of Fame, Lombardi’s is the first pizzeria ever opened in the United States. However, it is not the oldest continually run pizzeria in the country — it closed for a period of 10 years starting in 1984 due to financial reasons. That title instead belongs to Papa’s Tomato Pie, located in Trenton, New Jersey, which began operations in 1912. The restaurant would reopen in 1994 one block away in its current location at 32 Spring Street thanks to the efforts of Lombardi’s grandson, Gennaro Lombardi III, and his childhood friend John Brescio.
However, over the past few years, there has been controversy as to whether or not the restaurant was actually founded by Lombardi. In 2019, it was revealed that Lombardi’s birth record and naturalization papers showed he only came to the United States in 1904 at the age of 17, classified as a “laborer.” He most likely would have begun as an employee and not the owner of Lombardi’s when it opened just one year later.