A year after Sandy, a Coney Island legend is slinging more pizza than ever

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman. This is The World. A year ago superstorm delivered a wakeup call to America. Suddenly the steady rise in global sea levels took on immediate and domestic urgency. In a moment we’ll hear how Sandy still influences our thoughts on climate change. But first, for those who had to rebuild what a long year it’s been. Last December I met Antoinette Balzano outside of her family’s flooded pizzeria in Coney Island, New York. Totonno’s was founded by Antoinette’s grandfather from Naples, Italy back in 1924. She and her brother and sister were determined to reopen. Antoinette Balzano: I think we have to preserve what grandpa came here to do and we have to let that live on in the same fashion that he intended it to. Werman: Well, grandpa would be proud. Antoinette and her family did reopen in March. So, Antoinette Balzano, how does it feel to be back? Balzano: Marco, I have such mixed feelings today. You just brought tears to my eyes. It’s bittersweet because on my way here I was so happy to come realizing that you remembered us and you would come back and ask how we were doing. But I drove through Midland Beach on Staten Island, I live on Staten Island, and I just have those thoughts of those two children whose lives were swept away last year so my emotions are all screwed up. But as far as being back at Coney Island I’m just thrilled. I’m thrilled and the family is fine and we’re all very happy. We had a great summer and we look forward to a good winter. Werman: I’ve got to say, there are any number of pizza chains in this country, as you know, I’m not going to name names and they with their stuffed crusts are as far genetically from the original Neapolitan pizzas you can get. Totonno’s, your family’s place, is probably the closest. Is your grandfather’s recipe still working post-Sandy? Balzano: You always make me laugh when you ask me those questions. You obviously don’t know Cookie too well. She would never let anything change. Werman: That’s your sister? Balzano: I said that down to the nails in the wall are probably the same. Everything is the same, everything is still working. There are wonderful pizzerias in New York City but nobody has what grandpa has and that is he’s the one that brought pizza to America. That’s what he told us. He started making pizzas at Lombardi’s and he made Lombardi’s become the first licensed pizzeria in America. So unless there’s an older family that I don’t know about I think we’re the oldest in the world by the same family and we’re very proud of that. Werman: I gather you have put in a new tile floor to capture some of that old world feel. What has changed since Sandy? Does Coney Island, does your neighborhood feel a little more cautious perhaps? Balzano: You know what Marco, I don’t think so. Werman: Really? Balzano: I think everybody has just been so busy to get back into business and get their homes back. It fades away, the feeling I think, of that we’re in danger because this place has heart, the people here have heart. I was born here and I can still feel the vibes when I come back. My blood pressure I think rises as I’m driving here from the Verrazano so I don’t think we feel in danger and maybe we should. I don’t know. Werman: I know so much of getting this little slice of heaven back open was about paying respect to your grandfather, Anthony Pero, but what about the fact that you are on this little spit of land in Brooklyn and if there’s another storm like Sandy you could be going through all this again? You’ve already dealt with a near-crippling fire a few years ago. Balzano: With the Lord’s blessings I think that there are people watching us and I’m sure grandpa is because...yeah. We’ve been through a lot. As long as we have the good health to continue we’re going to continue bringing the best pizzas in New York City to our customers, our very loyal customers. Werman: So Antoinette, are the hours still the same? What’s the latest at night I can grab the D train and get out to Coney Island for a pie? Balzano: Yes, you can. The hours are the same. We’re open Wednesday through Sunday. I wanted to tell you Marco, the thing that did change? It forced us to get a website so we’re coming a little bit into the 21st century and going on the computer so that’s a good thing. Werman: What’s the website? Balzano: As a matter of fact, I’m meeting with the fellow today so we’ll have a website. Probably TotonnosofConeyIsland, something like that. Werman: And what are the hours? How late are you open to? Balzano: Noon to 8 pm with the last seating being 7:30. Werman: Right. So if you want a pie you better be on the 6 pm in midtown. Balzano: Otherwise the mozzarella will be hanging out of your mouth as [INAUDIBLE] escorts you out the door. Werman: Antoinette Balzano co-owns Totonno’s pizzeria in Coney Island with her brother and sister. The pizzeria was opened by her grandfather, Anthony Pero, in 1924. Antoinette, great to speak with you again. All the best. Balzano: Marco, thank you for remembering us and the people in Coney Island. God bless you.