I recently sat down with Ben, owner of Underground Pizza, FiDi’s favorite and renowned pizzeria. Ben grew up in the East Village and started Underground Pizza …underground, in the basement of 205 Pearl Street. Coming from a long line of Italian barber’s, Ben wanted to try something new and different for his life’s work. Inspired by his mother’s love of baking homemade bread, Ben opened Underground Pizza in 1982.
Underground has been a downtown institution for over 30 years. Prior to relocating to its current location at 3 Hanover Square in 2004, Ben fondly remembers his first decade as a pizzeria owner, with the exception of one tragic day, September 11, 2001. We talked at length about the soot, the debris, the noise and thunderous rumbling and the chaos. While in the basement at Pearl Street, Ben was able to use Underground as a refuge for people streaming in from the streets, masking their faces from the choking dust. The next day, instead of evacuating as ordered, Ben and his staff carried all the water and beverages in stock to the street corner for the first responders. He says that is a day no matter what you do to block, rationalize or move forward, you will never forget.
Things were quiet for a year or two after September 11th, but after moving to Hanover Square, he was able to witness and be part of downtown springing back to life. I asked his opinion on the most recent revitalization of Fidi, new businesses and residence towers now taking up space around him, he says it’s definitely a new crowd. He remembers the mid 80’s, when you wouldn’t “see a soul past 5pm”. Now he is extending hours from the power lunchers to the city transplants who are newly calling FiDi home.
Ben loves being part of the Financial District and urges visitors to come see a very historical and special part of New York City. Now living in southern Jersey, Ben admits as a born and raised city boy, he misses being here 24/7, especially as downtown is now the hottest place to live, work and play!
Stop by Underground Pizza at Hanover Square and ask for Ben, in your best New York accent, “tell em’ Platinum sent ya’!”