A relationship, starting as partners in pizza, has ended in a showdown of slices.
"I did open a shop down the street a couple of years ago. You know what? It just didn't work out between the two of us," said Andrew Bellucci, the pizza chef at Bellucci’s Pizzeria on 37th Street and 30th Avenue.
But he used to work at Bellucci Pizza on 29th Street and 30th Ave. That’s right — two Bellucci’s — just eight blocks away.
“We had a lot of confusing people calling here and thinking, like, they ordering from there or they're here, and sometimes we make a pie, they don't show up," said Leo Dakmak, the owner of Bellucci Pizza.
Up until a year ago, Bellucci and Dakmak were partners here but that agreement blew up.
Neither one will say why.
"I wish them the best," said Dakmak.
"I don't wish anyone any ill-will," said Bellucci.
Civil discourse, but they’re both embroiled in a federal civil suit against each other.
Dakmak opened his pizza parlor about two years ago with Bellucci as the chef and namesake of the business.
But after things spun out of control, Bellucci got another investor and opened up the other shop in April of this year. And now they’re each taking a piece of each other’s pie.
"There is room for another 20 pizzerias, but I don't think there is room for the same name,” said Dakmak.
Dakmak sued, alleging Bellucci transferred the rights to his name over to Dakmak and Dakmak trademarked it, in December of last year.
Bellucci says, though, it’s his name.
His new joint now has a marketing campaign underway, including stamping Bellucci’s face on the boxes, to let people know who’s making the pizza there.
He’s well-known in the pizza world, with 30 years of experience making pies at legendary spots like Lombardi’s.
"It starts and ends with the dough. Everything else is in between,” said Dakmak.
Bellucci’s expertise — and colorful past — including a 1996 fraud arrest — have earned him some press before.
So has his creativity, like the painstakingly crafted New Haven style clam pizza, which is covered with fresh hand-shucked clams and needs to be ordered two days in advance.
It also leads aficionados on pizza pilgrimages to his new shop.
Like one trio from New Orleans, who made Bellucci’s their first stop on a five borough pizza tour. But they too almost went to the other location.
"There's a whole culture of pizza fanatics throughout America, and the name Andrew Bellucci carries a lot of weight. So we were glad that we found him here and we didn't go to the other one,” said Scott Crawford, who traveled from New Orleans for the pizza tour.
But eight blocks away, being first is best for some loyalists at the original Bellucci's. Most we spoke with were not even aware there was another pizzeria with the same name in the neighborhood.
“I did not know that," said Ahmed Hussain, a Long Island City resident. "Their pizza stands out from all the other ones because pizza is very thin. It's not too heavy.”
Scott Weiner — who runs Scott’s Pizza Tours — says feuds like this are actually common in the pizza world.
"Pizzerias tend to be opened by people who work together at one point, and then the next day they don't work together. And sometimes that carries with it a little bit of a weight,” said Weiner.
But any way you slice it, New Yorkers love pizza — even when it’s topped with a little controversy.