It’s been several months since Arthur’s Famous Pizza closed its doors, but Park Avenue still smells like tomato sauce and pizza crust, thanks to Julio’s Pizza, a nine-month-old establishment run by some of Famous Pizza’s former employees.
“I don’t do anything differently,” said Julio Niola, the longtime employee of Famous Pizza who founded Julio’s Pizza. “The menu is the same.”
Niola, who worked at Famous Pizza for 25 years, rising from dishwasher to manager, took the recipes and opened his own establishment down the street at 538 Park Ave.
Niola, 40, came to the United States from Ecuador in 1987. It had always been his dream to open a restaurant.
“In my country, I worked in construction, but I didn’t like that,” said Niola. “Always I liked to be in the kitchen.”
After immigrating to the United States, Niola first took a job at Guido’s Pizza on Park Avenue. He lived on Park Avenue, and passed Arthur’s Famous Pizza at 430 Park Ave. every day on his way to work. It became his dream to work there.
“Everybody talked about Famous Pizza,” said Niola.
It took him a few years, but Niola finally filled out an application at Famous Pizza. He was called back within a week and went right to work.
“I started washing dishes seven days a week for many years,” said Niola. “At that time I didn’t even speak English.”
Niola worked his way up from dishwashing to cooking, and eventually to manager.
“I worked like crazy,” he said.
Arthur’s Famous Pizza closed early this year after 50 years of business in the Park City. The owner, Arthur Yiotos, whose parents founded the restaurant, died in July 2009.
The restaurant remained open for more than a year, but closed this spring.
Niola said he left after a dispute with the new owner, who discovered that he was opening a restaurant down the street.
“In a week, I opened my own place,” he said.
He partnered with a friend, Miguel Munguia, and also brought along some friends from Famous Pizza.
Waiter Jose Luís Jimenez, who worked for Famous Pizza for three years, was happy to take a job with his friends.
“I’ve known him for a long time,” he said of Niola.
Alfonso Flores had only been working for Famous Pizza for a short time when it closed. He was hired by Niola shortly thereafter.
“It’s been pretty good,” he said, “like a family environment.”
Many of the customers from Famous Pizza have also migrated to Julio’s, said Niola, who is serving up their favorites from the defunct restaurant.
“They are the same recipes,” he said.
The only thing that has changed, besides the location, is that Julio’s makes deliveries and takes credit cards — two things that were not done by Arthur’s, said Niola.
Niola said that his use of the Famous Pizza recipes is legal; he consulted his attorney before opening his restaurant.
“Anybody can sue me, but nobody’s going to win anything,” he said.
Niola wanted to name his eatery Julio’s Famous Pizza, but said that friends dissuaded him from doing so, saying that he should put his own stamp on the new restaurant. But make no mistake: Julio Niola has every intention of operating the next incarnation of Famous Pizza.
Eventually, Niola would like to purchase the building at 430 Park Ave.
“I want to be the next Famous Pizza, 100 percent,” he said.