La Romana Pizzeria, located at 755 Grand Street, celebrated its grand opening last Thursday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Passersby enjoyed cookies, cupcakes and pizza slices as the owners introduced themselves to local residents and new customers.
Co-owner Steve Marcovici, a lifelong Williamsburg resident, worked for Tony’s Pizza, a neighborhood staple on Graham Avenue, for 25 years. He decided to start his own restaurant last January.
“I grew up in a pizzeria,” he said while making a new pie inside the kitchen. “That’s what I like to do.”
Between permits and other obstacles, Marcovici said the process took “a whole year and a couple of months,” but he stuck to his dream.
“I was just not going to let it go,” he said. “It was just something, growing up on Bushwick Avenue around the corner, I put my mind to it and that’s what it was.”
His goal is not just to serve longtime residents, but also a burgeoning new population of residents in the booming neighborhoods nearby. However, having grown up knowing the entire community, Marcovici said he won’t forget his roots.
“I want to be loyal to the whole neighborhood, not just Grand Street,” he said. “I'm not going to go anywhere, I’m going to stay here. It’s going to be a family pizzeria, just like it was on the other side.”
Homer Hill, executive director of the Grand Street Business Improvement District (BID), said he’s noticed a growing trend of restaurants popping up along the commercial corridor in the last three years. More traditional retail stores have been converted to bars and eateries, he said.
“Retail is really difficult everywhere in the country, and New York is no exception,” Hill said. “Competing with the Internet is a challenge.
“The demographics of this neighborhood have changed, so it’s become more of a bedroom community,” he added. “They shop at different hours and online a lot more. The business community is in a bit of flux as to how to adapt to that change.”
The BID, which assists businesses along Grand Avenue from Union to Bushwick avenues, provides sanitation services and manages the sidewalks. The organization also organizes holiday lighting in the winter, advocates for streetscape and parking improvements and coordinates beautification projects such as murals.
But one of their most important functions is providing social media and marketing services for new businesses like La Romana Pizzeria.
The BID also serves as a liaison between local residents and businesses, surveying residents to better understand their retail needs and attract businesses to fulfill those needs.
“Sometimes the trend of restaurants and bars is great because it promotes foot traffic on the street,” he said. “But sometimes there are things that are missing that residents really can use. We try to make sure we reach out to those types of uses.”
For example, Hill thinks niche food-based stores like an ice cream parlor, which doesn’t yet exist on Grand Street, would be beneficial and do well.
“We try to curate a healthy mix of businesses on this street,” he said. “We’re always working to improve the quality of the street and ensure Grand Street is a vibrant, clean, safe and inviting place for business and residents to shop.”
Their latest project, which they will unveil this summer, is a discount card that will be distributed to 5,000 local residents. When they flash the card at participating Grand Street businesses, customers receive a special discount.
“It's a way to establish good-faith relationships between residents and businesses,” he said, “and also encourage folks to get out and walk around their neighborhood and support local businesses.”
As for the newest member on the block, Hill said after meeting and working with the owners of the pizzeria, they’ll do just fine.
“These guys will do well because this is affordable quality food,” Hill said, “and everybody loves pizza.”