In its 80th year, Sally’s Apizza, a New Haven icon since 1938, is heading into a new chapter in its history. The Wooster Street pizzeria reopened Wednesday under new ownership after being closed several weeks for transition.
And more than 100 pizza lovers — with the line building every minute — waited outside the restaurant for a chance to score free pizza, given to the first 80 tables seated, starting at 3 p.m.
The room filled quickly as the first customers took seats at the booths, but several dozen more customers waited outside after the first of the line filed in.
Brothers Randy and Jack Weidner, both of Branford, shared a tomato pie with mozzarella at table 11 — “their table,” they said. The siblings have been visiting Sally’s for 15 years.
“We’re here every Wednesday,” Randy Weidner said. They said they arrived at noon Wednesday to wait in line.
Randy Weidner said he was “nervous” when he heard Sally’s had been sold. “But then I read [that previous owners] Ricky and Bobby [Consiglio] would stay on. I’m pretty confident that’s pretty cool.”
Jack Weidner said Sally’s crust, sauce and coal-oven cooking method make the difference for him. “You get filthy just eating it,” he said, laughing.
“I always tell everybody, If your fingers aren’t black, it ain’t apizza,” Randy said.
Sally’s was sold in December, but the identity of the buyers remained undisclosed until this week. Lineage Hospitality, described as “an investment consortium that specializes in the acquisition and management of growth-oriented restaurants,” will now take over operations on Wooster Street — and beyond. Lineage has said it plans to expand the Sally’s Apizza brand across the country. The new locations will “combine Sally’s authentic cooking with a refreshed design concept,” according to a press release.
“Nothing will change,” says Ashleigh Evans, a representative for Aaron Allen & Associates, a consulting group working with Lineage Hospitality. “That’s what Lineage is really most focused on. … They know that this community loves Sally’s for exactly what it is and want to make sure that nothing about that changes.”
Lineage “came to fruition through a love of Sally’s,” she says. “These investors were focused on being able to protect Sally’s, wanting to make sure that the Sally’s they know and love stays that way. So the safest way to do that was to make sure that they could have a hand in it, rather than it being perhaps bought out by something else who might be changing it.”
Ed Zorian of Hamden was one of the first customers in line. He says he's been a fan of the pizzeria since childhood, praising its crispy coal-fired crust.
He says he thinks Sally's will succeed in its expansion plans as long as the quality remains the same.
"As long as they don't lose that touch. … That pizza has to be the same, or people will go someplace else," he says.
Josh Galaz of Norwalk, a pizza enthusiast who says he has sampled many of the top pies in Connecticut and New York, ranks Sally’s as his number one.
“The sauce just bursts with flavor; the sauce is phenomenal, second to none,” he says. “The mozzarella is phenomenal. The crunch of the crust, everything is just top notch, the best of the best.”
Galaz says he’s “a little concerned” about the plans for expansion.
“I just hope they really stay true to the recipe that they have here and just the passion [for the] quality of the pies,” he says.
Evans said Lineage has not finalized specific plans for its expansion beyond New Haven, but added that “one of the goals is to make sure that Sally’s pizza can be available to as many Americans as possible.”
“Lineage is making sure that this restaurant stays this restaurant, and then making sure it’s a very deliberately thought out expansion plan to make sure there’s no sort of interference,” she said.
Bob Consiglio, who owned the restaurant with his brother, Rick, and sister, Ruth, is the son of Sally’s original owners Salvatore (“Sally”) and Flora (“Flo”), who opened the pizzeria eight decades ago. He said he and his brother will stay on as managers indefinitely.
“As long as we’re here, it’ll stay the same,” he said Wednesday. “ It’s going to have my father’s name on it. It means a lot.”
Transferring ownership gives him a chance to “step back a bit,” Consiglio said, where he’d normally be at the pizzeria for 12 or more hours a day. “It’s kind of fun now because I don’t have that big weight on my back.”
Sally’s has received many national honors for its pizza in its 80 years of business. Recently, it was named to The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Pizzas in America list (coming in at No. 8) and landed on Eater’s “38 Essential Restaurants” list in November.
The pizzeria, a Wooster Street icon since 1938, has served celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Kathleen Turner, Don Rickles, Jimmy Durante and Garry Trudeau, according to the restaurant's website.