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Servin' Slices :: Meet Scarr Pimentel of Scarr's Pizza, New York City's Best

Servin' Slices :: Meet Scarr Pimentel of Scarr's Pizza, New York City's Best

Two years ago, Scarr’s Pizza took the Lower East Side by storm. With a prime location at 22 Orchard Street, it’s hard to miss this tiny 750 square foot slice-oriented shop with a little bar in the back. From its decor that looks straight out of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, to the steady beats from the latest hyped rap album bumping out of the speakers, the place stands out in an area that’s known for trendsetting. But what really makes Scarr’s special is the community of people that gather there. Once you’re a local, you’re a local and treated as such. It’s the type of place where you can expect to strike up a conversation with other people sitting at the counter, and you’re bound to make a new friend or two. And considering the array of downtown creative types that have made Scarr’s their home away from home—like the Stray Rats crew—this is most definitely a good thing.

But it’s what’s under the hood of Scarr’s Pizza that is most impressive. Scarr Pimentel, 39, is from Harlem and grew up on old New York slices—the kind that, according to Scarr, don’t really exist anymore. He cut his teeth in the culinary world at some of New York’s most famous pizzerias including: Emilio’s Ballato, Lombardi’s, Artichoke, L’asso, and Joe’s. In short, he knows what makes a good pizza. Scarr also knows quality, and sources the freshest ingredients to create his 100 percent organic pies. He even goes as far as milling his own flour to make the dough and doesn’t advertise it either. This attention to detail is a sharp contrast to other pizza shops in the neighborhood famous for the dollar slice.

Whether it’s the location, aesthetic, quality, or a combination of all three, Scarr’s is clearly doing something right. It received an award for Best Cheese Slice 2018 from Bon Appetit, has been featured on Munchies’ Chef’s Night Out, and is typically so packed during peak hours that you can’t even get inside. But none of that really matters to Scarr. He’s more concerned with creating a quality product at an affordable price and fostering an atmosphere that makes his shop a favorite hangout amongst locals. And that ethos is at the core of the “it” factor that makes Scarr’s special. Considering the shop literally popped up out of nowhere in the pizza capital of the world to become recognized citywide, I figured I’d pop in and find out how it all went down from the man himself.

Scarr Pimentel on the right with his friend Audie Villot on the left.

LELAND WARE: Where are you from originally, and how did you get involved with food, specifically pizza?

SCARR PIMENTEL: Long Island City and Uptown. My first job ever was at Emilio’s Ballato. I was 16 or 17. That’s how I met the owner of Lombardi’s. He was one of the regular customers. My best friend growing up’s mom was the GM of Lombardi’s at the time too. They didn’t want me working there for whatever reason. So she asked Emilio to give me a job. He liked me, so I started working over there. Back then, I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. Obviously, I was a kid. But I fell in love with the restaurant industry being at Ballato’s. Everyone knows it now, but back in the day, nobody really knew it. It was like, celeb hangout. It’s always been. But nobody really knew about it until recently.

What famous people were coming in when you were working at Ballato’s as a youngster?

Lenny Kravitz, L.A. Reid, Jack Newfield—he used to be a writer for the Post—Mayor Giuliani. David Bowie and Iman used to go there a lot.

You really got to witness what the food and beverage world could be at an early age. Where did you go from there

From there, I left the city for a couple of years. Then, I came back and started working at Lombardi’s. That’s when I knew I wanted to do a pizza spot. People don’t know this, but Lombardi’s is the first licensed pizzeria in the United States. Back in the day, it was amazing. When I worked there, the pizza was insane. I don’t know about now. I haven’t had it in a long time. But a long time ago, it was probably the best in the city.

So you kind of learned pizza...

Working over there. One of my family friends was a pizza maker there. He was a Puerto Rican guy. I can’t remember his name. He did a bid. And when he got out, he needed a job. So he started making pizza there. I saw what he was doing and became curious. He taught me a little bit about what he was doing while he was working there during the day. Then, the other guys that were making pizza were showing me stuff here and there as well. I would watch them make it. Then, I started practicing on my own. After that, I started working at other pizza shops like Artichoke, L’asso, and Joe’s. I learned a lot at Joe’s for sure. I figured out that this is what I wanted to do, and just went with it.

When did you get the vision for Scarr’s?

I got the vision a year or two before we signed our lease. I knew I wanted to do a slice shop. But I didn’t want to be like a Joe’s. I wanted to kick it up another level and be different from everyone else. That’s when I started experimenting and researching bread—trying to make it healthier. I was reading about different flour and nutrients. But I also wanted it to be by the slice. I didn’t want it to be a little bougie spot where you come in and order pies only; and they’re tiny-ass pizzas for $20, $30, and up. I wanted it to be accessible to everybody. If you’ve got three or four dollars in your pocket, you can afford to come in here and eat. And you’re eating really good, because I use the best ingredients in the world.

When did Scarr’s open?

Two years ago, we just turned two a couple of months ago.

The location on Orchard in the LES is incredible. How did you find it?

I’ve been working downtown on and off for 20 years. I knew a lot of people down here. A lot of the people Uptown that I grew up with aren’t around anymore. I’ve still got family that lives up there. But for some reason, opening the shop up there didn’t feel right. People always ask me why I didn’t open it up there. I don’t know. I just like it down here better. Growing up here, Downtown has always been the center of the universe for cool shit. When I was Uptown, I would hang out with my boys. But we would always come back down here. So it just made sense to me. I wanted to be in a neighborhood that needed good pizza. I’ve lived down here for the past 10 years. There’s not really any good pizza around here. There’s nothing like the pizza that I grew up eating. So I was like, “Fuck it, I’ll just do it myself.”

“If you’ve got three or four dollars in your pocket, you can afford to come in here and eat. And you’re eating really good, because I use the best ingredients in the world.”

What was the process for opening once you found the location?

I found the spot eight months before I signed the lease. But they were asking crazy money for the space. I was looking online, and I saw that it was listed again on Craigslist. But it was listed at a reasonable price. They didn’t have the address listed, but I could tell that it was the same spot. There was just something about the space that I liked. It had old energy. That was pretty much it.

But you also did a lot of customization with the paneling and other renovations. The signage is amazing.

I know people are going to find this hard to believe. But we never hired a designer. We designed it ourselves. I wanted it to be like as if someone’s grandfather had the shop originally, and retired and passed it down to his grandson. And then, they modernized it a little bit. That was the idea of the whole shop.

What about the details?

Our brand colors are based off the New York flag. I remember going to the auditorium when I was in school and staring at the United States flag and the New York City flag. The New York flag is orange, white, and blue. People think we used that because of the Knicks, but it’s from the New York City flag. I thought about it, and no restaurant or bar had done it. So I thought, “Let’s go with that color scheme.” Plus the colors look dope.

Thanks for the love @bonappetitmag. 🧡

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