Most people know Benny Tudino’s Pizzeria on Washington Street as the “Home of the Largest Slice,” and it is. But owner Benny Drishti (his wife’s maiden name is Tudino) says what really makes the pie is the sauce.
The 71-year-old owner is very proud of that sauce. Last week, just a few weeks after he had heart surgery, he seemed happy to still be enjoying it.
Forty years ago, Drishti bought the pizza shop at 622 Washington St. after borrowing $5,000 from friends.
Drishti had been born in Albania to an Italian mother and an Albanian father. In 1968, he was working at Mama Leone’s Restaurant in the theatre district of New York City, learning the ways of the kitchen. Not only did he end the year with a pizzeria on his hands, he also had his new wife by his side.
He married Sophia, who was also born in Albania, in March of 1968 and they moved to Hoboken to run the pizzeria in October.
“The town wasn’t much good,” Drishti said of his relocation. “The people in town were very cold. They don’t know us.”
He and his wife worked 14-hour days and stayed open past midnight to attract the late-night crowd that Gino’s Pizza – the most popular Hoboken pizza place at the time – was turning away. As part of Hoboken’s “pizza wars” of the early ’70s, Gino’s was right across the street at 603 Washington St. It eventually folded after Benny’s took off.
Even though Drishti and his wife stayed open late, that wasn’t enough. What it took was a homemade sauce.
“I see something; I look at all the ingredients,” Drishti said, explaining his method of developing his sauce. “I ask myself, ‘Why do American people like this stuff?’ ”
He created his homemade sauce, but Sophia said she wasn’t happy because it was expensive to make. That is, until she tasted it.
Bringing in the boys
Sophia passed away four years ago, but the family still remembers her fondly. Drishti and his wife taught their two sons the pizza business. Arbend and Eddie Drishti are both police officers in Hoboken, but they can’t resist being around the family business. Their own children hang around the like the two of them did as boys: putting on the apron, making a mini-pie, taste-testing the sauce, learning the ropes in the kitchen.
They said they enjoyed growing up in the store. Everyone who was anyone would come by for a slice.
“Our name has now become synonymous with Hoboken,” Eddie said. “Frank Sinatra, Baseball, and Benny’s.”
Arbend said his father would put schoolkids to work and pay them with a slice and a soda. He said his father also would send his sons out to give some slices to the homeless. Both brothers agree that they will pass on to the next generation what their father taught them about being connected to the community.
Uncle John brings the big slice
It was John Drishti, or “Uncle John” to the boys, who came up with the idea to have an oversized pie so people would recognize a Benny’s slice. Uncle John already owned a pizza restaurant in Jersey City.
“More bang for your buck,” Arbend said. “Everybody copycatted us.”
The idea took off. Benny’s became the “Home of the Largest Slice,” and the epicenter of Hoboken’s pizza scene.
Free slice for Hoboken
To celebrate their 40-year anniversary, Benny Drishti’s is offering one free slice to anyone between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 5. They also plan to distribute 1,000 t-shirts on a first come, first serve basis.
“We thank the people of Hoboken for 40 years of dedication,” Eddie said.
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