Crashing the Sausage Party: A Pizzaiola Rises Among the Pie Guys

(Photo courtesy of Miriam Weiskind)

New York City’s local pizzaiolos (Italian for “dude who slings pizzas”) have a lot in common. Although they each have their own recipes and twists, they’re all on a mission to source the freshest ingredients and make their pie stand out among the rest, a somewhat difficult task when working with the same simple ingredients. Another stark similarity: they’re almost all men. 

Enter Miriam Weiskind. As an art director turned pizza guru, an Iron Man competitor turned ultra-marathon runner, Weiskind is as driven as they come. She’s one of those anomalies that has figured out how to turn her passion, pizza, into her career.

When the COVID-19 shutdown happened last March, Weiskind just wanted to help spread a little joy in the way she knows best: pizza. As anxiety levels and loneliness set in all around New York, she set up a Breville pizza oven in her tiny Park Slope apartment and made pies for her neighbors and friends. She hasn’t stopped since, and she’s currently booked out a month and a half in advance.

While members of the boys’ club compete to have the best, most authentic, most cool pizzeria, Weiskind keeps her elbows in and her eyes on her own prize: spreading joy and making the best pizza she can. In staying true to her ideals, Weiskind’s business model is donation-based and there’s an option to “pay a pie forward,” which funds pies she gives out for free to teachers, first responders, and people who really just need a pick-me-up. 

Although she’s lived in New York for 14 years, she met the king of New York pizza tours — Scott Wiener — in 2011, which would end up changing the trajectory of her life. She started running Wiener’s corporate events about eight years back, which gave her a financial cushion to pursue pizza full-time and leave art directing behind. She started her own pizza blog, The Za Report, where she reports on her favorite pizza places in New York City.

“It’s funny, because during the Pizza Tours, a lot of people assumed I was a student,” she said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, no, I am like a full-grown adult that owns a business. I do this because I really enjoy it.”

Over the course of working with Wiener, she kept asking pizzaiolos around town if she could help out in the kitchen and learn the craft. Paul Giannone, from Paulie Gee’s pizzeria in Greenpoint, was the first and only one to take her under his wing. 

“I started working for him in February of 2020,” she said. “And I wasn’t even there two months when the pandemic hit and shut everything down.”

(Photo courtesy of Miriam Weiskind)

Her work ethic, curiosity, and creativity make her the perfect employee. Even though she’s now started her own pizza business out of her apartment, she still does afternoon prep work for Paulie Gee. And in true Weiskind fashion, and as if she’s not already busy enough, she runs the five miles to and from work. 

“I would be hired to do things because I would think differently,” she said about previous jobs in various industries. “And when I think about pizza, you know, I look at it as an art form. Like, right now as I’m talking to you, I’m physically hand mixing my dough, and even when I transition to a real space, I’m going to hand mix my dough. Everything I do is by feel.”

Her own pizza business is starting to take off, and Weiskind is all hands on deck. Because of her background in art direction and corporate settings, she knows how to market herself. She currently has 10,000 followers on Instagram, and the number is climbing significantly every week, especially after she was featured in Vice’s Munchies video series.

“Someone asked, ‘Who does your PR?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m not hiring someone to do any of my PR. I’m fine. I got it.’” 

She’s an anomaly of confident and ambitious, mixed with easy-going and down-to-earth. For example, after graduating college, she moved to New York on a whim that could’ve most definitely gone awry. 

“The reason I wound up in New York was I literally flipped a coin,” she said. “I had two job offers, one in New York that didn’t pay and one in San Francisco that did pay. So I flipped the coin and it’s heads up, and I’m like, ‘Okay, I guess I’m going to go discover the city I’ve always wanted to discover, which is New York City.’”

Weiskind believes that in order to live your life to its fullest potential, you have to take risks and you have to fail. “I welcome failure, because in failure, you learn how to do better,” she said. “I definitely had my moments where I’ve done things that didn’t work. But I’ve learned from them and I’ve taken those moments and turned them into an opportunity.” 

Weiskind’s goal can’t be monetized and it goes against the grain of typical business. Really, she just wants to make a difference while enjoying life along the way. 

“Miriam is one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet,” said her friend and regular customer Randi Greenberg. “I’ve known her since we were kids growing up in Dayton, Ohio. This is not a social media act.”

Greenberg described the Weiskind family as a bunch of pizza-eating monsters. “She has a sister in Boston — when I go visit, we eat pizza. It’s a blessing and a curse, knowing this family.”

(Photo courtesy of Miriam Weiskind)

Last year, Weiskind learned how truly fleeting life is. Her mom passed away due to Covid-19, and she’s been enveloped in the grief that comes with losing a parent. When you order a pie from her, you’ll see a handwritten note on the inside of the pizza box: “For Mom,” with a heart. 

“One hundred percent, my pizza will always be dedicated to my mom,” she said. “You know I was thinking about it this morning which got me really sad, but I remember saying to my mom, ‘We’ll all be home for Thanksgiving and I can’t wait to bake pizza for you.’ And it’s just heartbreaking thinking that that never happened.”

Weiskind’s mom was a person who always inspired her to help others out, which is a core foundational pillar to her current business. 

“For me, giving out pizzas is equivalent to my mom giving out bottles of honey for Rosh Hashanah, for like 200 people, because she knew she needed to make sure that they had a sweet start to the new year. Kind of like how I want to make sure somebody has a nice, warm meal.” 

Most people are surprised by her pizza’s low price: just $12 for a classic margherita, where many places in town charge anywhere from $18 to $25. But her whole outlook is: we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and if she can make life a little bit easier and tastier for somebody by offering what they can afford, then that’s exactly what she’s going to do. 

Astonishingly, Weiskind only knows of one other outright women-owned pizzeria in New York City: John’s Pizzeria in Elmherst, which is a mother-daughter duo that’s been around for 53 years. Other iconic pizzerias like Antonia’s and Emmy Squared have women in their equation, but were co-opened with or funded by male counterparts. 

“I think it’s important to talk about how difficult it is for a female to open a restaurant versus a male, especially in the pizza industry,” said Weiskind. “It’s so heavily male-dominated.”

When she started scoping out spaces for a pop-up shop as well as food truck for catering, she was met with condescension. Some men told her, “You do know that catering is a really hard business, right?” But Weiskind has a goal, and she’s determined to meet it. “I want to deliver free pizza all around New York City’s five boroughs. That truck would enable me to target areas and give out more free pizzas.”

Weiskind also wants to offer free baking classes for youth. “I want to continue that business model when I’m actually in a brick and mortar.”

Although outsiders have claimed that New York is dead, locals know that’s far from true. It’s a difficult time, but also an opportunity for new beginnings.

“I just feel grateful to be in a position where I can support this community and help rebuild it.”

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