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VOL. 128 | NO. 249 | Monday, December 23, 2013

 

Location is Key for Success of Downtown’s New York Pizza

By RICHARD J. ALLEY

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As businesses expand and contract, corporations find homes in faraway cities and new technology means that law offices don’t have to adhere to the convenience of proximity the courthouse affords, so goes the Downtown workforce.

But one thing remains the same: those still working, living, visiting and playing Downtown need to eat. And those employees, fans and tourists appreciate variety.

The latest offering Downtown at 45 S. Main St. offers a simple name – New York Pizza – and a simple lunch: pizza by the slice. Of course you can get the whole pie as well, or a calzone or pasta.

“Something different, so people can come in every day,” said owner Saleh Ahmed.

Saleh Ahmed tosses dough at New York Pizza, a restaurant he recently opened on South Main Street across from One Commerce Square. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

He said he hopes to expand into baked goods with doughnuts and pastries in the near future to catch the morning crowds on their way to work.

Ahmed is a veteran restaurateur who perfected his trade in New York. In the midst of a soft opening that began in the middle of the month, he says he is prepared for winter to be slow, “but it will pick up in summer.”

Sandwiched between a jewelry store and Family Dollar, Ahmed can be seen in the plate glass window fronting Main tossing dough into the air, stretching it out and making it ready for the sauce, cheese and toppings. All pizzas are made from scratch, an art the Egyptian-born Ahmed said he learned working with Italians for years.

The restaurant is long and narrow at almost 1,000 square feet, and still with a hint of the cell phone store that previously inhabited the space. Some of the display cases are still vacant, but will be filled soon as a steady stream of deliveries come in on two-wheelers. Despite the sparseness of décor, Ahmed’s enthusiasm fills the space as he tosses his dough and welcomes the curious who cross the threshold with a resounding, “Welcome to New York City!”

There are no cars allowed on this stretch of Main, but a recent pedestrian followed his nose and curiosity in to order a slice intended to be eaten as he walked to work at Rizzo’s Diner on G.E. Patterson Ave.

“I was passing by, saw the door open and slices of pizza on the counter,” said sous-chef John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

When asked what his favorite type of pizza is as he waited for a slice to come from the oven, he said, “I just love pizza. I like pepperoni, but I’ll even eat vegetarian as long as it’s got good sauce on it.”

He said he plans to make New York Pizza a regular stop on his walks to work.

Vegetarian pizza is one thing, vegan is another. Visual artist and Downtown denizen Christopher Reyes lives a block from the new pizzeria and stopped in for the first time to inquire about vegan offerings. Though Ahmed didn’t have anything on hand as yet, he promised to have it very soon and offered a discount when Reyes returns.

Ahmed was drawn to the location because of people like Kennedy and Reyes, those who work and live Downtown, and who are excited by new offerings.

“I love the location,” he said. “It’s a perfect location across from One Commerce Square. It’s a very high-class area.”

The 30-story building looms large across Main Street. Previously home to corporations such as the National Bank of Commerce, SunTrust Banks and, most recently, Pinnacle Airlines, it has disgorged hungry bankers, accountants, receptionists, lawyers and CEOs onto Downtown’s streets for years.

Though the building has been far under capacity lately, Ahmed may be on to something when he looks to summertime – the State of Tennessee recently signed a lease that will bring nearly 600 state employees across the street.

Another offering not to be found everywhere is on the flat-screen television mounted to the wall above the counter. The rabid sports fan Ahmed says that the TV will always show soccer from around the world, any time of day or night. New York Pizza is currently open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Though still early, Ahmed is happy with the business so far with a busy lunch in the books and plenty of foot traffic passing by.

“This reminds me of New York,” he said, gesturing out the front window between the preparation of pies. “The trolley and walk-up traffic. I know New York is crowded, I like crowded.”

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