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'I Feel Guilty,' Says Owner of Pizza Chain Taking Over Former Mimi's Space

By Shaye Weaver | September 20, 2016 5:00pm
 Mimi's Pizza on the corner of 84th Street and Lexington Avenue closed in June and will be replaced by Famous Famiglia Pizzeria.
Famous Famiglia Pizzeria
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UPPER EAST SIDE — It's no Mimi's.

Just months after Mimi's Pizza, a neighborhood staple for 51 years, shuttered its doors because of high rent, a "coming soon" sign has appeared in its window signaling the arrival of a new pizza purveyor: Famous Famiglia, a pizza chain with more than 50 outposts across the world.

John Nikolla, a co-owner of the new Famous Famiglia location, said the restaurant is expected to open at 1248 Lexington Ave. and East 84th Street sometime in the next month.

He also owns another Famous franchise on East 97th Street and Madison Avenue.

"I feel guilty," Nikolla said of replacing Mimi's. "Some people are a little mad at me. I've talked to people who have gone to Mimi's longer than I've been alive."

But he promised to bring his best for the neighborhood.

"It will be a very impressive looking store," he said. "It's not fine dining...it uses the same kind of ovens as Mimi's. Our menu is small and the focus is on pizza."

The first Famous restaurant opened in New York City in 1986. It was launched by three brothers in The Bronx — Paul, John and Giorgio Kolaj — but the chain soon spread to airports, malls, colleges, theme parks and stadiums all over the country, according to its website.

Famous Famiglia serves pizza by the slice, whole pies, stromboli, pasta, salads and sandwiches. Many of its pizza ingredients are imported from Italy, Nikolla noted.

Nikolla said he and a handful of Famous employees got together to open the franchise this year and while they've already had the store for a month, it's been challenging getting it ready for the grand opening. 

The restaurant has been fully gutted and new brick ovens have been ordered, he said.

"It's a bigger job than anybody anticipated," Nikolla said. "I thought it would be a re-do, but there's been one surprise after another. There have been no updates to the store."

Mimi's Pizza closed in June, pushed out by increasing rent, according to its owner, Stephen Vanacore. It was a favorite among celebrities like Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Bobby Flay, who got his start working in the kitchen there.

And it was where many locals made memories, including Upper East Sider James Tang, 32.

"When I had chicken pox when I was 4, it was the only thing I wanted," he said when he learned about the closure this summer.

"It's really sad and actually a travesty. It's like an Upper East Side landmark, a staple. The fact that it's closing shows nothing is protected and there is no semblance of permanence."

Locals also took to Twitter to react to news of Famous Famiglia taking over the former Mimi's space.