Bellini’s Pizza Developing ‘Cult’ Following

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Al understands that the best cures for the homework blues are zany pizza slices. (Photo by Samuel Joseph/The Ram)

By DEVON SHERIDAN

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR

Altin Bellini, who goes by “Al,” never planned on running a staple pizza joint near Fordham University. Instead, like the fresh dough he prepares every morning, Al tosses his success up to good fortune.

Al understands that the best cures for the homework blues are zany pizza slices. (Photo by Samuel Joseph/The Ram)
Al understands that the best cures for the homework blues are zany pizza slices. (Photo by Samuel Joseph/The Ram)

“I didn’t know it was going to be a big deal with Fordham University, to be honest,” Al said. “One day, I was just driving by, and I never thought I would open a pizza place in the Bronx, and I saw that this place was for rent. So, I checked it out and it was meant to happen.”

With almost a decade of experience learning and working the pizza business, Al, the owner of Bellini’s Pizza on 189th and Hughes, cannot help but smile while he works. Now in the fifth year since it’s inception, Bellini’s Pizza is one of six or seven pizzerias that reap the benefits of having a close proximity to Rose Hill campus (see: Issue 19, “The Definitive Fordham Pizza Guide,” for information on the others).

Al and his staff of two provide the pizza, and the university provides the students.

“If it wasn’t for Fordham, we would probably not even be in business, you know,” Al said. “It’s probably at 80% of revenue.”

Starting with its location, Bellini’s is unique to its fellow pizzeria competition. Situated at the corner of Hughes and 189th, Bellini’s is the closest pizza place for any student living from Hughes to Cambreleng from 189th St. down to 187th. This location means that it is on the way home for any students living in that area who may be coming back from TriBar or class. If Pugsley’s Pizza, which is strategically located right outside the gates of campus, is the go-to pizzeria for on-campus students, then Bellini’s is a strong contender for the same title for off-campus students.

But, there is something even more integral to Bellini’s success, which Al has dubbed a “cult” following: the specialty slices.

“I was making pizzas in downtown Manhattan,” Al said. “I knew I could make a good slice after learning, reading a few books, this and that.”

Cooking with two ovens each at 600°F, Al has invented over a dozen specialty slices using an assortment of meats, cheeses, vegetables and other toppings. Grinning at the glowing display of nine or 10 pizzas already on display for the noon lunch rush, Al points to the most popular slices.

“The best sellers: it’s the Philly cheesesteak, the [penne vodka] pasta slice and the barbecue slice,” Al said.

Vegetarians rejoice! Al explained the “Ah-ha!” moment behind the famously filling penne vodka slice.

“Basically, the idea is that you can put anything on a pizza. One day I was eating a penne vodka dish, and I had some leftovers, so I threw it on a plain slice,” Al said. “It’s so good.”

Ranging from $2.50 to $3.75, Bellini’s slices have indeed developed a bit of a niche following over the years, especially among students who spend their weekend nights around the TriBar area at the intersection of Arthur Avenue and 189th St.

“It’s good. Lucky for me I speak English,” Al said.

Furthermore, Al, who is 28, takes pride in connecting with the students.

“We get along,” Al said. “I understand the mentality of the students; They’re younger than me, but still I’m not that far away. I understand the college life is not easy. The homework is hard. I know a lot of their names and it’s a good, close, intimate relationship.”

Running a business that makes its profit mostly late at night is a caveat that Al both accepts and embraces. On the weekends he works a 15 hour shift, and on “party nights” Bellini’s stays open until after 3:30 a.m.

“We have some diehards in that sense,” Al said, laughing.

For college students, Bellini’s is exactly the kind of place to which they will gladly supply their patronage.

At the tail end of the conversation, as if scripted, two self-proclaimed regulars burst through the doors.

“Al is great, he always tends to your needs even at any time of the night,” Alex Venzor, FCRH ’15, said. “Al never fails.”

“Late night pizza, you can’t beat it,” Lauren Sheffield, FCRH ’15, said.