Little Italy’s Lombardi’s finds customer influx thanks to frozen ‘Sangarita’ during pandemic

Photo courtesy of Anthony Sciarratta

A New York City staple is balancing new menu items without giving up on their traditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lombardi’s originally opened in 1897 as an Italian grocery store in Little Italy. The owner, Gennaro Lombardi, became known for the pizzas that he made that by 1905 the store shifted gears and became the first pizzeria in the United States.

“At the time, a lot of Italians lived in Little Italy and would work in factories in SoHo,” said John Brescio, former owner of Lombardi’s. “Back then, Lombardi’s was open 23 hours a day. Workers would come in a get pizza wrapped in brown paper bag and then heat it up at work.”

Lombardi’s quickly became a staple in Little Italy. Brescio says that soldiers who had spent time in Italy during the war would come home and want pizza. Lombardi would feed these soldiers and also give them a place to sleep if needed. Eventually, with the invention of mixing machines, pizza then boomed in popularity across the country.

Lombardi’s is currently co-owned by Michael Gianmarino and Gilbert Soto and now operates two locations, one in Little Italy and the other in Chelsea. They still pride themselves on using the best ingredients, but found themselves expanding their menu is the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing that has particularly taken off for Lombardi’s is their new drink selection.

Lombardi’s has started serving frozen sangria and frozen margaritas, the recipes for both, Brescio says, was perfected by Soto. 

“Gilbert has a knack for making cocktails,” said Brescio. “It helped bring an influx of younger customers. They love the pizza, but sometimes, before the pandemic, they’d sit for 5 or 6 hours just to hang out and drink!”

Another unique addition to the menu is the Sangrarita, which is the frozen margarita and frozen sangria mixed together in the same glass. During the pandemic, online orders with these new drinks were popular add-ons for Lombardi’s. 

Throughout the past couple of months, though Lombardi’s was keeping busy with their online orders, the restaurant started to feed frontline workers. After sending pizza to New York University (NYU) Langone medical center, Lombardi’s sent 50 pizza pies to the U.S.N.S. Comfort.

Now that New York City is in Phase 2, like many restaurants Lombardi’s can now begin seating people outside with proper social distancing protocols. Brescio is excited for the customers to come back to serve them pizza unlike anywhere else.

“I used to come to Lombardi’s when I was five years old and I could never find a pizza quite like that,” said Brescio. “That’s what really made me want to concentrate on making great pizza.”

Lombardi’s is located at 32 Spring Street (Little Italy) and 290 8th Avenue (Chelsea) and is open daily from 12 to 11 p.m. Hours are subject to change due to the pandemic. For more information or to order online, visit firstpizza.com.