Councilman Robert Holden visited Minitalia Pizzeria last week to recognize owner Rocco LaBianca for his delicious pizza and service to the community.
On Monday, June 28, Holden presented LaBianca with a New York City Council proclamation for 43 years of pizza making in Ridgewood.
“Generations of my constituents have been raised on his excellent pizza,” Holden said. “No matter how you slice it, our district has some of the best pizza in the city and Minitalia is a great example.”
LaBianca said this was something he never expected to happen to him, but made him feel so appreciated.
“When you do something that you love, and then other people come and give you recognition, it makes you feel good,” LaBianca said. “I not only impress myself, I impress other people. It was really nice and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”
LaBianca was born in Italy and came to America in 1971. He realized his passion when he saw a man flipping pizza dough in the air through a restaurant window.
“It was love at first sight,” LaBianca said. “There was this little place, this guy was flipping the pie and he caught my eye as I was walking. I said to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
When he was just 13 when he started working as a dishwasher for a restaurant in the Bronx. There, he learned how to cook and make pizza.
“That was my passion in life, to make pizza,” LaBianca said. “And 42 years later, I’m still making pizza.”
LaBianca is a staple in the Ridgewood community. He said that his customers have turned into family, and he works seven days a week to provide for them.
“They love me back through good times and bad,” LaBianca said. “The only time I took off I was diagnosed with colon cancer. I told my customers I had to take off for a family emergency, and that I [didn’t] know when [I’d] be back, but [I’d be] back. I’m always positive in life.”
When LaBianca came back to work after taking time off, he was welcomed back with cards and letters of well-wishes. LaBianca said he makes it look easy, but working as hard as he does is anything but easy.
“They tell me I’m a workaholic. I tell them when you love something you keep going,” LaBianca said. “And the love that you get from your customers, the jokes, the bonding, the respect and the good pizza — 43 years later, I’m still around and loved by my community.”
LaBianca was diagnosed with colon cancer 13 years ago, but two years ago he again faced health complications. At this point, LaBianca has grandchildren, and has learned not to sacrifice his family for his business.
“It’s nice to make a dollar, but money is not everything,” LaBianca said. “I don’t want to keep pushing and God forbid something happens.”
LaBianca is looking to retire as soon as the right buyer comes around. He wants the community to know that though he is looking to retire, he will always be in the neighborhood.