When Famous Ray's Pizza vanished from the corner of 6th and 11th back in October, we never expected it to return, especially not with news of lawsuits in the air over rights to the name Ray's. Then we heard that competitor Famous Original Ray's would be moving in. But that was not to be.
This week, Ray's reopened--with a new name and the original original owner.
Mario DiRienzo and his brother Lamberto first opened The Famous Ray's Pizza on this corner in August of 1973. They closed the shop in the 1980s and Mario rented it out to numerous other pizza places over the years. Today he is back behind the pizza counter. "I tried not to come back," he told me--it's difficult to be here without Lamberto, who passed away--but "things happen" and here he is.
Since Mario reopened on April 16, long-time customers have flooded in to welcome him back to the neighborhood. "I feel like crying," he said with tears in his eyes. "So much appreciation from people." He had no idea that he'd been missed, and that he'd be remembered so fondly.
Newer customers who don't recognize Mario's face from the 1970s will find it all along the walls, where he has hung framed copies of vintage photos and news articles about his pizza place, including one from 1983 that recalls the time he sent an order of 40 pizza pies all the way to London.
Mario in the 1970s
Also on the wall is a photo of the bus that his father once drove back and forth across the Italian village of Roio del Sangro. In the photo, a very young Mario pokes his head from the bus window in a crowd of family and friends.
Mario decided to name the new old pizza place after his hometown, but Famous Roio del Sangro Pizza was "too long for a pizza place," so Famous Roio's was enough.
"I wish I'd changed the name years ago," he told me. "There was too much going on with Ray's--Famous Ray's and Original Ray's. It's been very confusing. So I'm happy I changed it. Now I'm distinguished from the others."
As for the infamous rivalry with Famous Original Ray's, Mario says there is no rivalry. "I have great respect for the Original Ray's and they respect me. We've known each other over 40 years. We're good friends."
the 1976 mosaic of Montecatini still stands