Historic Big Apple pizza joints could be forced to dish out mounds of dough under a proposed city edict targeting pollutant-spewing coal-and-wood-fired ovens, The Post has learned.
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection has drafted new rules that would order eateries using the decades-old baking method to slice carbon emissions by up to 75%.
“All New Yorkers deserve to breathe healthy air and wood and coal-fired stoves are among the largest contributors of harmful pollutants in neighborhoods with poor air quality,” DEP spokesman Ted Timbers said in a statement Sunday. “This common-sense rule, developed with restaurant and environmental justice groups, requires a professional review of whether installing emission controls is feasible.”
The rule could require pizzerias with such ovens installed prior to May 2016 to buy pricey emission-control devices — with the owner of one Brooklyn joint saying he’s already tossed $20,000 on an air filter system in anticipation of the new mandate.
“Oh yeah, it’s a big expense!” said Paul Giannon, the owner of Paulie Gee’s in Greenpoint. “It’s not just the expense of having it installed, it’s the maintenance. I got to pay somebody to do it, to go up there every couple of weeks and hose it down and you know do the maintenance.”
Giannon added that while the air filter is “expensive and it’s a huge hassle,” it also has some upsides.
“My neighbors are much happier. I had a guy coming in for years complaining that the smoke was, you know, going right into his apartment and I haven’t seen him since I got the scrubber installed.”
Other iconic pizza joints facing the heat include Lombardi’s in Little Italy, Arturo’s in Soho, John’s of Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, Patsy’s in Turtle Bay and the Upper West Side and Grimaldi’s near the Brooklyn Bridge — that pride themselves on having their pies baked in coal-and-wood-fired ovens.
A city official said that under 100 restaurants total would be impacted.
One pizza restaurateur, who requested anonymity, told The Post that sensitive negotiations are currently taking place with DEP officials on whether to grandfather in or exempt the dozens of coal-and-wood-oven-fired pizza joints from the mandate.
He said politicians and bureaucrats should stop messing with their crust.
“This is an unfunded mandate and it’s going to cost us a fortune not to mention ruining the taste of the pizza totally destroying the product,” the restaurateur, who has a coal-fired oven, fumed.
“If you f—k around with the temperature in the oven you change the taste. That pie, that chimney, it’s that size to create the perfect updraft, keeps the temp perfect, it’s an art as much as a science. You take away the char, the thing that makes the pizza taste great, you kill it,” he claimed.
“And for what? You really think that you’re changing the environment with these eight or nine pizza ovens?!” the restaurateur added.
Some crusty customers also told city officials not to tamper with their slice.
“I’m all for responsible environmental practice but tell Al Gore to take one less private jet or something. Give me a break!” said Brooklyn Heights resident Saavi Sharma, 32, a financier who brought her parents and cousin visiting from India for their first slice at Grimaldi’s, referring to the former vice president and climate change activist.
“I’ve been bragging about this pizza to my family for like five years,” Sharma said Sunday. Don’t mess with this!”
Giannon of Paulie Gee’s, said that despite assertions to the contrary, the air scrubbers will not affect the quality of the taste or texture of the pies.
“If someone is trying to say that putting the scrubber in changes the flavor of the pizza they’re just trying to save themselves $20,000. No, it doesn’t affect what’s going on inside the oven,” he said.
“No, it hasn’t changed the taste. It hasn’t changed the pizza. It hasn’t changed our product at all.”
Under the mandate, restaurants with coal-and-wood-fired ovens must hire an engineer or architect to assess the feasibility of installing emission controls devices to achieve a 75% reduction in particulate emissions.
If this report concludes that a reduction of 75% or more cannot be achieved, or that no emissions controls can be installed, it must identify any emission controls that could provide a reduction of at least 25% or an explanation for why no emission controls can be installed.
The restaurant will be allowed to apply for a variance or waiver, but must providence evidence to prove a hardship.
The new DEP rules comply with Local 38 of 2015 approved by former Mayor Bill de Blasio — who was widely mocked after he was pictured eating a slice with a fork and knife — and the City Council.
DEP officials said the difficulty in drafting practical rules without negatively impacting restaurants — plus the COVID-19 pandemic — delayed action until now.
The department said it consulted with an advisory committee consisting of restaurateurs to come up with the rule.
“The advisory committee and DEP were unable to finalize a rule in that time frame due to the difficulty of crafting a rule to manage technical and cost concerns that are attendant to the installation of emission control devices,” department officials explained.
“For example, costs for controls for existing cook stoves can be difficult to manage as the spaces in which these cook stoves operate are often aging structures that were not designed to accommodate emission control devices,” the officials said. “In addition, many of the locations where existing cook stoves are used are not owned by the operators of the cook stoves, and changes required to install such devices require obtaining the landlord’s permission.”
The first pizza joints in New York and the US used coal-fired ovens, which was cheaper than wood.
But they take more oxygen to burn, requiring more space and typically built into the foundation of a building.
Stainless steel pizza ovens entered the picture in the 1940s thanks to the emergence of natural gas, and very few new restaurants used coal or wood ovens.
Other city pizzeria using such ovens include Fornino’s in Williamsburg and Motorino, which also has a location in the Brooklyn neighborhood, as well as in the East Village and the Upper West Side.
Lombardi’s, which opened in 1905 and claims to be America’s first pizzeria in America, boasts on its website about its “beautiful, smoky-crusted coal oven baked pizza.”
John’s of Bleecker Street has been in business over a century, including since 1929 at its current location, and states on its website that its “hallmarks… are the coal fired brick ovens that churn out hundreds of crispy pizza’s daily.” A rep at the eatery confirmed that its coal-fired oven was installed before 2016.
Meanwhile, “Mancini’s Wood-Fired Pizza” in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, also may be forced to put in a device to curb fumes. It has an old wood-fired oven, an employee said.
One young customer, 8-year-old Alexander Dumas, loved his first wood-fired pizza Sunday at Fornino’s.
“This is the second best pizza I’ve ever had! I’ve had Domino’s and Papa Johns before and this is better. I think this is good like this,” said Dumas, oblivious to the controversy.