Pizza. We all f*cking love it, and for several reasons. First, it’s the perfect combination of crispy crusts with an infinite array of toppings. Second, the melted and gooey cheese somehow takes you to a euphoric state. Third, it’s affordable and the perfect meal on the go. Seriously, though, what’s not to love about these divine triangles? Even though we’ve all been caught eating pizza while walking (or running) through the streets of this hectic city, we are huge advocates of the dine-in experience — because pairing your favorite pizza with a cool vibe and a cold beer doubles its deliciousness. That’s why we love Speedy Romeo so much.
Justin Bazdarich and Todd Feldman are the brains behind the biz. In 2012, they opened their first location in Brooklyn and saw instant success thanks to its relaxed atmosphere, barn-style decor, and to-die-for food (they’ve been listed on the Michelin guide every year since 2013). Fun fact that adds to its popularity: Speedy Romeo is also the set of Ray’s Coffee on HBO’s GIRLS, so it’s no surprise they have fans flocking. And after much proven traction in Brooklyn, the two have now decided to infiltrate the Manhattan market with their brand new LES location.
We had the pleasure of hitting up the Clinton Street outpost to get some insight on how they got into the culinary industry, their favorite pizza flavors, and the future of Speedy Romeo. Meet Todd (left, below) and Justin (right, below), the two fellas behind said place.
Justin: Kansas City, Kansas
Todd: Livingston, NJ
Justin: Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn
Todd: Clinton Hill, Brooklyn
Favorite meal you love to cook at home:
Justin: A meal consisting of peanut butter and jelly, Ruffles potato chips, and a glass of milk.
Todd: Omelettes and french press coffee
Favorite pizza at Speedy Romeo:
Justin: The St. Louie, (San Marzano tomato sauce, hot soppressatta, Italian sausage, provel cheese, and pickled chilies)
Todd: Hmm, The Dangerfield. But in the summer it’s definitely the “Speedy Romeo” with heirloom tomatoes and ricotta. So fresh and delicious.
Go-to nightcap spot:
Justin: Black Crescent in the LES
Todd: My friend’s spot “Mr. Fongs” is always great. But at the moment it’s Black Crescent since it’s so close to our new location and they are awesome. If I’m in Brooklyn I like Doris in Bed Stuy.
Album on repeat right now:
Justin: Sturgill Simpson “Metamodern Sounds in County Music”
Todd: Super Ape by Lee Scratch Perry and The Upsetters. Just found it on vinyl and reggae is always a good idea.
Dream travel destination:
Todd: Spain. Seems sexy.
Guilty pleasure you’re almost scared to admit:
Justin: I fucking love “Sorry” by Justin Bieber!!!
Todd: Dancing in my underwear.
How would you describe the music played at Speedy Romeo?
Justin: In the early hours: a mix of surf vibes, reggae, and yacht rock then we dip into Hip-Hop and Rock as we head into the night.
Todd: Yacht Rock for the early hours to ease into service And then some good old fashioned garage rock-n-roll and Motown.
Tell us your role in the business. What do you handle?
Justin: Everything from pulling paper towels out of the sewer line with my hands to managing a P & L report.
Todd: Work the floor and help with customer relations. And any day to day paperwork.
How did you get into the culinary industry?
Justin: I started cooking at two restaurants to make money in college. After I had dropped out, I started a program at the French Institute in SoHo. While I was there, I cold called Jean-Georges’ restaurant to intern for free. I went from intern to sous chef at Nougatine, from sous chef to chef de cuisine at Perry St, then I was asked to travel for Culinary Concepts opening 15 restaurants worldwide before opening up my own restaurant.
Todd: My parents had a diner in New Jersey but I never thought I’d be in the restaurant business. So the easiest answer to that is meeting Justin.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge of owning a restaurant in Manhattan compared to Brooklyn?
Justin: All of the people that I used to work for/with back in the day have never been to the Brooklyn location so the pressure is on right now to showcase the best possible product and show them what they’ve been missing!!!
Todd: Competition. Not that there isn’t any in Brooklyn but it can be really easy to be swallowed up in the big city of Manhattan, so you have to be on your toes and stay fresh and hungry.
We’ve heard you’re doing collaborations with other local restaurants — love the Katz pizza! Any other exciting collabs we can look forward to?
Justin: Chefs Leah Cohen, Joe Isidori, and Marco Canora are in the line up.
Todd: Our next collab will be a pizza with Leah Cohen from Pig and Khao. Can’t wait to see what she comes up with.
What’s been one of the most rewarding moments of opening your own restaurants?
Justin: Having a regular clientèle that see and help make the restaurants, the institutions they develop to be. That’s always been the goal.
Todd: Creating special memories for other people. Sounds corny but it’s true. We’ve seen first dates turn into marriages, and kids eating pizza in a high chair then becoming young adults.
Working with a partner can be both challenging and beneficial. What do you think are each of your strengths?
Justin: It is good to have a partner shoot down your incredible ideas sometimes because in the end it was not the best idea in the first place. We definitely help level each other out and place matters into perspective.
Todd: Justin’s creativity and quick thinking. Also he’s a great problem solver. Mine would be going with the flow and not getting rattled.
We’ve huge GIRLS fans, so we’re obviously geeking out about the fact that Ray’s coffee shop is shot at Speedy Romeos BK! We have to ask: how did that all come about and how do you guys feel about having a footprint in that show?
Justin: See Todd!
Todd: I worked as a casting director on two HBO shows: The Sopranos, and How To Make it in America. I still currently work in casting and I was calling some old colleagues looking for work again and I joked around with a friend who works on GIRLS if they ever needed a place don’t hesitate to use us… 6 months later I get a call that Lena Dunham was on her way to check out Speedy for Rays! I was already a fan of the show so I was psyched. We love having them here and it feels like we are part of the GIRLS family now. Cast and crew have been really cool and we are looking forward to having them come back for the final season.
Tell us something about the other that most people don’t know:
Justin: Todd can quote every line from Caddy Shack.
Todd: Justin has a super sensitive side.
What can we expect next from the Speedy Romeo team?
Justin: Speedy Romeo Japan!!! Nah JK! But that is a dream!!!
Todd: Just focus on the LES spot and make sure it’s as special as Brooklyn. However I wouldn’t mind a Speedy Romeo on a beach somewhere.
Words of wisdom for future culinary entrepreneurs?
Justin: Be Humble!!!
Todd: Take a carpentry class. Something is always breaking in a restaurant and if you know how to fix it yourself you’ll save so much time and grief.
If you want to try the tasty pies at Speedy Romeo (duh, of course you do), then make sure to visit one of their two locations at 376 Classon Ave, Brooklyn, and 63 Clinton St, LES.
Feature image via Vanessa Granda