New York Pizza Legend Andrew Bellucci Dead At 59

Andrew Bellucci, a renowned chef who helped spark a revival of coal-oven pizza in New York, has passed away at 59. Bellucci was the owner of Andrew Bellucci's Pizzeria in Astoria, Queens, where he died unexpectedly of heart failure, per The New York Times. Before owning his eponymous pizzeria in Queens, Bellucci made a name for himself by spearheading the reopening of Lombardi's, a legendary pizza shop in Manhattan that closed down in the late 80s. Lombardi's, which opened in 1905, is widely considered the first pizzeria in America, although some historians have questioned that narrative. True story or not, Lombardi's was a New York icon, and Bellucci's dedication to the original craft of coal-fired pizza brought the style back to popularity and made Bellucci himself something of a pizza celebrity.

Bellucci was born in New Jersey, and he first honed his pizza-making talents at a series of shops in New York's East Village neighborhood, including Two Boots, which has gone on to become a local chain. Beyond his day job, Bellucci was interested in the history of pizza in New York and spent time researching archival news sources about pizza at the New York public library. This work led to his commitment to coal-oven pizza, which he was convinced was the original way New York pies were made. He took pizza seriously as a craft when it was still mostly seen as a cheap takeout option and helped usher in a pizza renaissance in the city.

Andrew Bellucci helped breathe life back into New York pizza

Bellucci eventually tracked down the ancestor of Lombardi's original owner and convinced him to reopen the restaurant with Bellucci as the chef. It was a fitting rebirth for a pizza shop that had seen early employees move on to create a family of famous restaurants, including John Sasso, who left Lombardi's to open John's Pizza in 1929, which is still one of the most famous pizza spots in New York. Bellucci's pies at the reborn Lombardi's drew rave reviews for their crispy, charred crusts, and earned praise from big-name chefs like Nancy Silverton. 

However, Bellucci had a troubled career after that initial success, as federal agents arrested him for embezzling money from his former employer before he moved into pizza making. He later complained that the agents never paid for the pizza they ate, and still owed him "20 bucks plus interest."

After a short stint in prison, Bellucci made his living driving cabs around New York. However the last decade had seen his triumphant return to pizza, first in a partnership to open a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, and then finally in 2021 when he opened Bellucci Pizza in Queens. Another business dispute led to Bellucci immediately breaking from his partner and opening Andrew Bellucci's Pizzeria just a few blocks away. Despite those troubles, Bellucci remained fervently committed to the craft of New York pizza and has left an enduring legacy to a generation of chefs.