More than 40 years ago, Vincent Monaco stuffed flyers in mailboxes around town that boasted the grand opening of what would become a Lake Ronkonkoma legacy.
The flyers for Little Vincent’s Pizza advertised the largest pie in the house for $1.75. And at 16 inches, it remains the only size pizza. Monaco, a self-described “dinosaur in the business,” won’t make any of the fancy pizzas other restaurants have sitting under a glass counter. Monaco said he doesn’t make margherita or white pizzas, for instance, because they won’t be “fresh-fresh.”
“The magic happens when pizza comes straight out of the oven,” he said with an air of 40 years’ expertise.
Besides the prices, not much has changed at the pizza shop on Smithtown Boulevard that opened in 1971. And that’s exactly why customers keep coming back to the cozy brick restaurant, invited by a blinking “PIZZA” sign and a wooden cut-out of a little boy holding up a pizza above the awning outside.
But nobody seems to mind.
During a recent visit to the pizzeria, Rich and Maureen Moran enjoyed a couple plain cheese slices in a booth a few steps away from the blistering oven.
The Nesconset couple has been coming to the pizzeria “since the ‘70s when they opened,” said Maureen Moran. “We get pizza, and then we bring home eggplant heroes because they’re our favorite.”
The plain cheese slice has a legacy of its own around town. If a customer dines in, a server offers Parmesan cheese from a silver grater to go over a customer’s freshly-baked pizza. “Only the best Parmesan cheese goes on every pie,” said Monaco. “My uncle once said, ‘there’s no substitute for the finest ingredients.’”
The restaurant’s unofficial Facebook page has fans who rave about something called a “cold cheese slice.” Monaco explained that this tradition started at his Huntington Little Vincent’s location when teenage customers asked for chilled mozzarella.
And speaking of tradition, who will Monaco pass the torch, er, pizza cutter, to? Although each of his three children worked at Little Vincent’s Pizza when they were young, Monaco seems to have a different plan. “Let me tell you another story,” he began.
He told of a grocery distributor who extended Monaco a line of credit from the first day Little Vincent’s opened its doors, a gracious courtesy in those times, explained Monaco. The distributor told Monaco to thank him “by doing the same to someone else.” For now, Monaco is content to allow his loyal employees to handle things behind the counter and in the kitchen.
“We have a great staff here,” said Ida Monaco, the owner’s wife. Most of the staff has been at Little Vincent’s Pizza for years.
“Vincent Monaco is the best boss I ever had,” said employee Juan Garcia. “They’re very nice people,” he said, referring to Monaco and his wife.
Although she occasionally helps in the kitchen, she and her husband generally just stop by to make sure everything is running smoothly--and for a quick chat with whomever happens to be ordering up a slice. One of Vincent Monaco’s childhood friends stopped by on a recent afternoon, and at one point Ida exclaimed that her priest had just walked in--it seems one will always find a familiar face within the restaurant’s mirrored walls.
“The restaurant was a great place to grow up,” said Vincent Monaco fondly. Monaco, 61, celebrated his birthday and the 40th anniversary of Little Vincent’s Pizza just a couple weeks ago. He reflected on a childhood spent in his aunt and uncle’s Brooklyn grocery store and a first job selling penny candy before moving on to pizza restaurants in his teenage years.