When Lou Mondi opened Piesano’s last July on Route 114 near Smith Street, it was his fifth pizza restaurant.
His first was Village Pizza in Riverhead 30 years ago. Anyone who can remember the pizza they served will be nostalgic when tasting Piesano’s sauce, made with the same cherished recipe.
“The sauce recipe is funny,” Lou said, meaning there is no way he would tell me what’s in it. Reader, I tried.
Lou’s parents came to the U.S. from Sicily in the 1960s and settled in Patchogue.
His father was a barber and his 74-year old mother still works as a seamstress and lives in the house in Shirley where Lou grew up. His two sisters live nearby.
Lou comes from a long line of great cooks, including his grandparents and his mother. “It’s all about food,” he said. “We’re Italian. We can’t finish one meal before we start talking about the next one.”
Once Lou graduated from William Floyd High School, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but he knew it wasn’t college. After a short stint in a machine shop, he tried construction and then went to work at the Long Island Rail Road, where he did track work, sold tickets, cleaned stations, made a lot of friends and eventually earned a pension for 26 years of service.
Ever since his first job at a pizza joint in Shirley when he was 15, Lou heard the siren song of the pie. Working on the railroad was Lou’s day job but, he added, “I always had a side hustle.”
His first pizzeria in 1987 in Riverhead started with a loan from his father. He bought the Village Pizza business from three brothers, who stayed on for a month and introduced Lou to all their regular customers as a cousin. An even greater boost to the business came from the father of the three brothers, a man in his 80s who had been in the pizza business for years.
His instructions for pizza sauce and the dinner sauce served with pasta dishes at Village Pizza were exact. “He told me, ‘This is the sauce that you are going to use,’” Lou said. “I kept those recipes.”
There are a lot of pizzerias on Long Island, and some of them take their sauce right out of a can and let it cook on the pie while it’s in the oven, but Lou did what he was told, and cooked the signature sauce. His customers told him it reminded them of Brooklyn, a high compliment in the New York-style pizza business.
Lou was 30 when he got his second pizza place in Center Moriches, a store he started from scratch and enjoyed running. But with four small children he was spread too thin. “For the short time I was there, I made it happen,” he remembered.
Lou and his wife Roseann have known each other since they were both seven years old, but Lou had two previous marriages and four kids when they got married in 2009, and Roseann had been married once before as well. “We finally got it right,” Lou said.
Their family includes Lou’s kids; Luigi, 27, Georgiana, 25, Victoria, 22, Savannah, 21 and their daughter Samantha, 13. Georgiana and Savannah work at Piesano’s.
Lou and Roseann live in Eastport on the South Fork, so seven years ago, when Lou got the itch to start another pizzeria, he found a prime spot on Main Street and signed a lease two days later. “My wife says, “If it’s not 100 miles an hour, it’s not you.’”
There were other pizzerias in Eastport, and interest was keen when word got out that Luigi’s Main Street Pizza was coming to town. “People were coming in before I placed my first ad, saying they heard,” Lou said. “I said, ‘You heard what?’ It was a home run right from the first day.”
Until last year, Lou had heard about Shelter Island, but had never been here. Interested in a new location for Luigi’s, he was reading a newspaper when he saw an ad for a pizzeria for rent on the Island and decided to check it out. Although he didn’t end up leasing the store in the ad, it got him to come over on the ferry and take a drive around.
When he saw a guy mopping the floor at Bella Vita who used to work for him at Luigi’s, Lou asked him if the owner would like to sell the business. In April 2018, Lou and a partner, Nick Monti, finalized the deal. Piesano’s opened on July 7.
“Pizza has evolved,” Lou said. “It used to be, why would you want to put chicken on a pizza? Really? Now you have chicken, eggplant, Hawaiian pie with pineapple …”
Lou’s daughter, Savannah, observed while waitressing last summer that Shelter Islanders have an outsized fondness for pepperoni, and is responsible for rechristening their pepperoni pie, “The Shelter Island.”
“Food, it is so rewarding,” Lou said. “If you put your heart into it, people are going to love you.”
What do you always have with you? I always keep a pen right here, in my shirt. You never know when you are going to give an autograph.
Favorite place on Shelter Island? Going down to Crescent Beach, over that hill and looking at the water, I said, we’re moving here.
Favorite place not on Shelter Island? Delray Beach.
When was the last time you were elated? When we got married in Antigua.
Favorite movie or book? ‘Goodfellas.’
Favorite food? Chicken, grilled or fried.