Joanne’s Gourmet Pizza closes doors after more than 30 years

Joanne’s Gourmet Pizza closes doors after more than 30 years
The Dimaria family. Back row left to right: Joanna Dimaria, Louis Dimaria, Frank Dimaria, Eva Dimaria, Jenna Dimaria. Front row left to right: Lia Dimaria, Luke Dimaria, Rino Dimaria. (Courtesy of Rino Dimaria)

Joanne’s Gourmet Pizza, a Long Island staple and self-proclaimed creator of buffalo chicken pizza, has closed after more than 30 years in business.

Rino Dimaria, a Roslyn Harbor resident and Herricks High School graduate, spotted an open storefront in Roslyn soon after his college graduation in 1992 and knew it was the perfect spot for his father’s next venture. Instead of attending law school as he had planned, Rino went into business with his father.

Rino’s father Frank had been running pizzerias since 1964, when Frank and his wife Joanne opened their first pizzeria together in Brooklyn.

“Dad went to work seven days a week, working at a pizzeria 12 hours a day. My mom would run the household,” said Rino. “They had a very old school, European, Sicilian upbringing and relationship.”

Frank and Joanne first met in New York in 1958, when Frank was 19 years old and Joanne was 17 years old. They had a lot in common, since both had just immigrated to the United States from Sicily that year.

Joanne Dimaria. (Courtesy of Rino Dimaria)

The couple opened their first pizzeria in Brooklyn in 1964. They would later move to Albertson, when Frank opened the first Joanne’s Gourmet Pizza in Williston Park, a clear nod to his beloved wife, who died in 2017. In the 1970s, the family moved to Florida, where Frank opened The Pizza King. Then it was back to New York, where Frank opened a new Joanne’s pizzeria located in a small, 1,600 square foot property in Mineola.

When Rino noticed the empty property on Northern Boulevard, he knew he had struck gold. And after seeing his father take pride in supporting the family, it is no wonder why Rino and his brother, Louis, decided to join the family business.

Rino, 53, and Louis, 50, would come to run the pizzeria for the next 30 years, rarely taking a day off.

“My brother and I are very opposite. There are challenges,” said Rino. “But at the end of the day, it’s the most rewarding experience [I could] ever have, working side by side with my brother in that store all those years.”

Instead of clashing, Rino and Louis’s opposite personalities complemented one another. Rino, a more talkative extrovert, handled customers while Louis, who loves cooking, handled the kitchen. It was that combination of good food and family values that kept customers coming back for decades.

Rino and Louis claim they were the first pizzeria to make their infamous buffalo chicken pizza and barbecue chicken pizza more than 30 years ago. Their honey Dijon pizza is also a fan-favorite, which rapper Busta Rhymes included in his song “Turn It Up.”

“If we could have just trademarked the names ‘Buffalo Chicken Pizza’ and ‘BBQ Chicken Pizza,’ we would be billionaries by now,” joked Rino in a Facebook post announcing the restaurant’s closure.

Quality food was always a priority for the pizzeria, attracting celebrity customers like Bella Hadid.

Rino said his parents always instilled in him the importance of owning property as a business owner, saying “real estate is king.” While Rino and Louis shared a dream of turning the pizzeria into a small franchise, they followed their parents’ guidance and set forth on a mission to buy the building.

“I used to beg the landlord to sell me the building, from the day I opened at 23 years old,” said Rino. “She was the nicest woman in the world and when the time came … she called me and offered it to me.”

But when that call came, Rino and Louis were handling three other pizzerias at the time. Rino knew he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy the building, so he asked his landlord to give him just three months.

Rino and Louis sold their other businesses. They liquidated all of their assets. And they bought the building in 2007.

Now, Rino and Louis are looking forward to sitting back, collecting rent and enjoying more time with their families. That doesn’t mean it was an easy decision to close the business, though.

Staffing issues and the rising cost of labor made the business more difficult to manage financially. The store’s inherent tie to their mother, however, made it difficult to give up.

“Once we saw that our passion was no longer there to be in the store all day long, we knew it was time,” said an emotional Rino. “We would’ve done it a few years ago, and we should have done it a few years ago, but, as you can see how I keep breaking [down] and crying, the nostalgia just – it’s very, very difficult to do.”

Rino and Louis will miss the customers as well. Rino’s voicemail has been flooded with messages from customers who will miss Joanne’s Gourmet Pizza for its food, friendship and sense of community.

Neighborhood kids who are now all grown up have messaged Rino to thank him for the years spent grabbing a bite at the pizzeria as elementary schoolers. Rino will miss those moments, watching generations pass through his restaurant.

“Seeing women come in pregnant 30 years ago, and then seeing that child that was born come in pregnant and then give birth to another child that was being fed our food as some of their first bites of food,” said Rino. “Seeing that may be the most rewarding part of it. The people.”

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