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Ray's Pizza's Replacement Vows to Uphold its Legacy

By Andrea Swalec | January 6, 2012 11:25am
Owner Frank Morano's 18-year-old son Dominic works at Prince Street Pizza and proudly displays a pie.
Owner Frank Morano's 18-year-old son Dominic works at Prince Street Pizza and proudly displays a pie.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

NOLITA — The city's oldest Ray's Pizza may be no more, but the owner of the new pizza shop that moved into the 27 Prince St. space has vowed to carry on Ray's legacy.

The owner of Prince Street Pizza, which opened Wednesday, said he was a Ray's pizza devotee since the 1960s — and even held his wedding reception at Ray's adjacent restaurant.

"I consider it an honor to be here," owner Frank Morano, 46, said in an interview in the pizza shop's back room, which was once Ralph "Ray" Cuomo's apartment.

Morano, a Staten Island resident whose father grew up on Mott Street and mother lived on Elizabeth Street, reminisced about some of his best childhood memories taking place in the pizza shop.

"As a young boy, I came to my great-grandmother's house on Broome Street and she took me [to Ray's Pizza]," he added, saying that he remembers Cuomo as a "jolly, jovial guy" who would give people slices on credit if they were short on cash.

The pizza joint opened at 27 Prince St. on Jan. 4, 2012.
The pizza joint opened at 27 Prince St. on Jan. 4, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

Morano, who also owns The Meatball Factory at 231 Second Ave., said he was sad to see the October closure of the Ray's that spawned dozens of imitators citywide.

"I felt bad, because I'm a sentimental person. A lot of the old stores in this neighborhood aren't here anymore. It's become very trendy. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I wanted to bring back that personal touch," he said.

Between the Oct. 31 closure of Ray's and Prince Street Pizza's grand opening Wednesday, Morano and company upgraded the 52-year-old space, ripping out white tiles behind the counter and adding red brick.

The black tin ceiling has been painted a copper color, but Moreno kept the original floor and moldings.

"I tried to keep some of the originality of the place," he said.

Gone are the benches that lined the front of the restaurant. In their place: two counters where 12 stools will be placed line the walls.

The pizza joint's oven has been upgraded, too. Ray's oven heated to about 500 degrees, fit four pies and took about 11 minutes to cook a pizza. Prince Street PIzza's ovens heat to 750 degrees, fit six pies and take about five minutes to cook a pie, Morano said.

Prince Street Pizza's signature slice is the SoHo Square, which has fresh mozzarella, the Morano family's homemade sauce and crust that is "light, flaky and not doughy or chewy."

"McDonald's has their Big Mac, Burger King has their Whopper and Prince Street Pizza has the SoHo Square. No other square can compare," said Morano, who has trademarked "SoHo Square," lest other city slice joints try to rip it off.

The pizza joint's sauce is the secret Sicilian recipe of Moreno's father and is made from imported tomatoes and olive oil, fresh garlic and "a couple of things I just can't say," Morano said.

The SoHo square costs $3.75, a Grandma slice runs $3.50 and a Neapolitan slice goes for just $2.95.

Morano opted not to request use of the Ray's name because he wanted to leave Cuomo's heirs the option to open another location with the name, he said.

As DNAinfo.com first reported, Ray's Pizza closed after one of its owners bought the building for $5.9 million, according to legal documents filed with the city Department of Finance.

The former site of the Ray's restaurant alongside the slice shop will become a luxury spa, the property manager for the space, Nick Aynillian, said in December.