Welcome to Lifers, a feature in which Eater interviews the men and women who have worked in the restaurant and bar industry for the better part of their lives, sharing their stories and more.
[Photos: Renata Steiner]
After spending some time with Tim Dijulio at Piecora's, contributor Tallulah Anderson says, "It was pretty apparent that there's more than a touch of the old vibe. Sure, some things have changed, but at its core, Piecora's is that same magical, slightly abrasive spot we've all known and loved for nearly 30 years. And in case you were wondering, the pizza is still beyond legit."
Piecora's New York Pizza has been a staple in Seattle since 1982. Way before Via Tribunali, Big Mario's, or even Hot Mama's, there was a smoky, dive-y, go-fuck-yourself-if-you-don't-like-it Piecora's. It's a little more family-friendly now that many of the shop's original customers have kids and smoking inside is no longer legal, but nearly 30 years later, what hasn't changed is the heart (and attitude) of Capitol Hill's oldest pizza spot.
Tim Dijulio, an old school member of the crew who can say "back in the day" and mean it, is living proof that not that much has changed where it really counts. Dijulio, the day front counter manager at Piecora's, could easily be mistaken for a New Yorker; in fact he says it's the most common misconception people have about him. Maybe it's his straightforward manner or his pure love of New York-style pizza, but the man just exudes that Big Apple vibe. His main passions in life are pizza, quality espresso, and music, which he plays regularly with multiple bands. What impressed us the most was that after 20 years in the industry, Dijulio still truly, honestly and unabashedly loves pizza.
How long have you worked at Piecora's?
I started at the Piecora's New York Pizzeria on 55th [along with brother Danny]. I started traveling, playing music, but as a musician I kept getting sucked in to needing a part time job. I got a phone call from Richie [Piecora] one day and he was opening this place [Piecora's]. He wanted to hire me for something but I didn't want to cook pizza anymore, but it was front of the house stuff so I went in. I was in school and traveling, doing music still, my life has always been music. I always thought at some point I wouldn't do it as much but I just do it more and more and more as I get older, and this job has been great for that.
It seems like music is a real passion of yours, do you still play?
I play music four or five nights a week, in like five bands, so it's definitely still a major part of my life. Currently I'm in Flight to Mars with Mike McCready (who used to work here too, back in the day), Stereo Embers, Halloqueen (a Queen tribute band), and a few others.
So pizza. Has it lost its luster after all these years or are you still pretty into it?
"Yeah, I love it. One of my passions in life is East Coast, New York-style pizza and really amazing coffee! Like what Mike McConnell does at Via Tribunali or a doppio espresso from Stumptown. My two favorite things in the world are amazing espresso and really good New York pie."
So Tim, what's your slice?
Long pause. My slice?
(Apparently the idea of choosing a single slice was like asking a parent to choose a favorite child, so we revised the question.)
Okay, give me your top three.
Well one of them is salami, pepperoncini, and roasted red peppers, but I also love the slice here, the Sweet Italian (sausage, fried peppers and garlic). Tomato, basil, and artichoke is good. But now that I think about it, the salami one is my favorite.
What's a day in the life like at Piecora's?
During the day we have a skeleton crew so basically I'm the assistant manager but I'm also the only waiter. So I open the restaurant, set up the restaurant, go to the bank to do deposits, I get the change for the whole week (and for the shifts I'm not here), loose change for the drivers, set up the register, and then there's the stuff I don't even know. I do all the reservations, or try to do 90% of them, which means I set up the banquet rooms for any evening events (or try to do it the best I can), organize the delivery drivers, because we do lots of pre-orders and catering orders, you know for hospitals and stuff like that. I like to make sure to cooks and drivers are in tune.
We open the restaurant right at 11:30. Lunch service is a new story every day, maybe it's completely busy, sometimes it's slow. Some days we have kids from Seattle Academy that just descend on us. Some days it's nothing and others it's 50 kids and we do cheese and pepperoni slices. We usually have about four or five to ten pizzas ready for them, and [orders] come in kind-of, slice, slice, slice, so I do that and just try to get them in and out while I'm waiting tables. My Saturdays are great, really fun too, because you get lots of different people. At night we have much more defined roles, often four or five waiters on the busiest nights, with bussers running behind them.
You've been working in customer service for a long time, how do you deal with the assholes? (Not everyone is as kind as you, dear reader.)
My joke is three weeks in a row it's the greatest job ever. I get tips, I'm out by 5 p.m. and have my nights free. Then the next three weeks are like, it's customer service hell and you want to kill yourself everyday and you just can't wait to leave. You know, it just is what is. You have to be thick-skinned; it has to bounce right off of you.
Piecora's seems to be constantly growing as a space, how does that work with the size of your kitchen?
That's the big joke around here, I love it though! We've got this tiny kitchen that was built for one room in 1982 and they just keep adding to our delivery range and banquet halls and building out. It's really funny how we all end up crammed in that little area, but it's New York here, everyone's really close.
The neighborhood has changed a lot over the years, but Piecora's feels like it's right on the edge, what's that like for you guys?
We're right on the edge and we haven't really changed. It's been good because we kind of got a kick in the pants with all these restaurants, you know we used to be the only guy in town and now it's like 15 restaurants within a three-block radius… I always joke that the line of hip moved three or four blocks but it's like, "we're still here!"
Is it pretty different at Piecora's now in comparison to when you started?
Back before the smoking ban we didn't have a non-smoking section. It wasn't a bar, but it felt like a bar for better or worse. We got a few bad reviews because of that but it was also part of the charm. My first experience walking into this place was Paulie and Kevin, two longtime Piecora's employees, standing not behind the register, just standing with two cigarettes hanging out of their mouths and they were like, "Hey, how you doing? Just grab a seat and we'll be with you when we feel like it" and they had 'London Calling' by The Clash playing and in my head I was like, oh man I love this place. It just felt right, but I can see how it would rub some people the wrong way. That was just the vibe. Now all those people who used to come in and smoke have kids and the neighborhood's changed so it's a little more family-oriented. But it's been awesome, because there's still a touch of our old style.