Anthony Sciarratta grew up smelling tomato sauce and watching dough kneaded at his grandfather’s iconic pizza place, Tony’s Pizzeria, in Forest Hills.
Seems like a kid’s dream, right? Well, Sciarratta admitted that he actually wasn’t all that fond of pizza as a kid.
“At that time, I didn’t even eat pizza,” he laughed. “I don’t know why, when I was a kid it didn’t sit with me well. I started eating pizza after it closed and I had to pay for it.”
But now, Sciarratta, who was born and bred in Middle Village, dreams of opening up Tony’s Pizzeria once again.
The 24-year-old wants to make it exactly the way him and the community remember the pizzeria — which opened its doors in 1969 and closed them in 2001 — even if he might not be able to open it in the original location at 100-05 Metropolitan Ave.
“My grandfather still owns the building, but right now it’s a Middle Eastern restaurant,” he said.
It all began with his recently published novel, “Finding Forever: A 1970s Love Story.” The novel tells the story of a neurotic Italian-American young man who meets and falls in love with a quirky Broadway actress and becomes inspired by her to pursue his lifelong dream, all set in 1970s New York City.
He calls it the “Italian version of ‘When Harry Met Sally.'”
Sciarratta was heavily influenced by his traditional Italian and Catholic upbringing in Queens when writing “Finding Forever.” After his manuscript was complete, he even made it a point to book a flight to Italy and visit some of the towns he mentioned in his story, including Tuscany, Rome and Positano.
“My heritage plays a big role in my work,” Sciarratta said.
The book was originally written as a screenplay that he outlined while attending New York Institute of Technology, where he got a masters for communication arts. He self-published the book on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, and later landed a book deal with Post Hill Press.
Then, during the promotion for his book, Sciarratta came across hundreds of people that thought he was his grandfather, Tony.
“It’s amazing to me because the following was huge,” Sciarratta said. “All these people still want my grandfather’s pizzeria to be around, they were talking about the memories that they made there, the memories that they made there with their mom and dad and how they now want to bring their kids there.”
Tony, who eventually closed the pizzeria in order to spend more time with his grandchildren, said, “It feels good to be a staple of the community, and Forest Hills definitely contributed to my success.”
Inspired by the community’s overwhelming response, Sciarratta wants to bring back Tony’s Pizzeria in about two years.
“It’s been my dream ever since I was a little kid to own an Italian restaurant,” he said.
But his grandfather, who turned 80 years old in June, told Sciarratta that it won’t be easy. “He tells me that I better be ready to work hard ‘cause a pizzeria is no joke,” he said.
Tony added that while he wishes his grandson “good luck,” he wants him to understand that “it’s a very tough business, especially today.”
Sciarratta doesn’t seem worried, though. He’s confident he’ll be able to make this a reality, just as he made writing a book a reality. Funnily enough, he wasn’t always into English class or reading, but recording experiences in a journal was always a part of his life.
“I love to look back on things,” he said. “I actually found my fifth-grade journal they made us do in Our Lady of Hope, and we had a question, ‘What do you want to do when you’re older?’ and I wrote, ‘Star in a sequel to “Grease” and write a book.'”
He can check off one out of those two things, for now.
In the meantime, Sciarratta is currently looking for an adjunct professor position and will soon begin promoting his next two novels, “The Letter” and “Faith in the Unknown.”