A pizzeria helps relief with free pie

By Thomas Wengler • Nov 28th, 2012 • Category: Lead Story, News

New Park Pizza has been a staple of Howard Beach for over 55 years. Noted for its brick-oven pies and for serving only plain and Sicilian slices with minimal choices of toppings, New Park has consistently been regarded as a must for anyone visiting the neighborhood for the first time. It’s rare to walk in and not see a line, which didn’t change even in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

New Park Pizza offered two free slices and a free soda to every one of its customers in the days following that devastating storm. Not only was the pizza free, but management also forbid staff members from accepting tips of any kind.

Joseph Mayer, 20, has been a counterworker at New Park Pizza for two and a half years. The condition of the store notwithstanding, Mayer said the thought of losing money probably never crossed owner Donna Sarrica’s mind. “I do not think making or losing money was even considered in her decision,” Mayer said. “She simply wanted to help the community.”

Even though Howard Beach was not considering part of evacuation zone “A” in preparation of Hurricane Sandy, the community suffered much devastation. Countless families were displaced from their homes and the business district along Cross Bay Boulevard remained lifeless for days. Numerous stores were destroyed in the floodwaters, which reached upwards of 10 feet in some spots, and any building that managed to survive the storm with minimal water damage was still left without power.

Located mere feet from Shellbank Basin, one of Howard Beach’s numerous waterways, New Park lost many supplies to the hurricane, although the ovens remained functional, even without a power source. Once Sarrica’s idea to give out the free pizza was implemented, word spread throughout the neighborhood in a matter of hours. A line soon coiled around the block, consisting of residents and volunteers with the relief effort. There were even members of the National Guard, which was called in to restore order after there were numerous reports of rampant looting taking place along the boulevard.

The significance of the gesture was not lost on Matthew Curcio, 19, a lifelong resident of Howard Beach. “It showed that the neighborhood can stick together during times of trouble,” Curcio said. “Everybody was there for each other and something so small like giving out a slice of pizza meant a lot to many people.” New Park continued to show compassion towards Sandy victims even after the restaurant officially stopped serving free pizza. “I was helping a lady one day who ordered a couple of pies,” Mayer said. “We were talking and the owner overheard the lady say that she was bringing the pizza back to Rockaway with her. Once she heard that, she told me not to charge the lady.”

The actions of New Park Pizza may actually benefit its business in the long run. As word spread of what was going on, rave reviews of the pizzeria began to be posted online. On yelp.com, Gina L. wrote, “Ok I have to comment on the huge heart of New Park Pizza.  They gave away two free slices per person after Hurricane Sandy.  I was so touched by this.  Thank you New Park Pizza.  Not only is your pizza fantastic, you have a great heart!” Another customer, Efrain Estrada, said that people will always remember what New Park did after the hurricane, and that it will keep them coming there for years to come.

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