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Captivating Pizza Lovers for Decades

By: Maria Orlando Pietromonaco

Umberto’s Restaurant and Pizzeria has captivated pizza lovers in New Hyde Park for decades with its flagship establishment. Over the years since, it has spread its “pizza” magic throughout Long Island with restaurants in Wantagh, Garden City, and Lake Grove. Zagat says of the Original Umberto’s: “This delicious
throwback to old-fashioned, red-sauce Southern Italian pizzerias brings a slice of Brooklyn to New Hyde Park.”

The vision for the Umberto’s empire began with Umberto Corteo, an Italian immigrant with little to call his own except for his laborious spirit and unwavering determination. Born in the country village of Monte di Procida just west of Naples, Italy, Umberto was the seventh son of eleven children. His family instilled in him the ethic of hard work at a young age, and he toiled in the fields of his father’s farm to help care for his family of 13. With no “silver spoon in his mouth,” Umberto graciously accepted what little he had and appreciated the simple things in life.

But that didn’t last long because he, like many Europeans of his generation, knew there was a better way of life waiting across the Atlantic. They knew America was the land of opportunity and hope, so Umberto and four of his brothers and sisters traversed the expansive ocean to the United States, where their American dream began in Brooklyn.

Employment was a top priority, and Umberto found his way in the restaurant business working in hot kitchens for not much of a paycheck. He sent most of his hard-earned savings to his mother and father back in Italy, stashing some aside in anticipation of one day starting a business of his own. In 1965 Umberto and his younger brother Joe pooled together their nest egg, and the Original Umberto’s of New Hyde Park was realized.They were joined a few years later by their brother Carlo in 1970. Carlo left in 2000 and opened Umberto’s in Wantagh.

Given the small space and no financial means to advertise their new venture, there was only one way to lure in customers and keep them coming back — Umberto set out to do the only logical thing he knew how: offer the finest, authentic Italian food around at a reasonable price.

Now, 45 years later, the Original Umberto’s is a landmark. Joe Corteo left New Hyde Park and moved on to Florida, carrying with him the quality and authenticity of Original Umberto’s. The New York restaurants are run by Umberto’s son Gaetano, his nephew Vinny, daughters Ida and Teresa, son-inlaw Anthony — just to name a few. Umberto’s, once a “cozy” pizzeria, has grown into a “majestic Tuscan architectural two-story restaurant with a full service cafe, four-star dining room, and world-class catering facilities.” But the extraordinary food is what packs their restaurant night after night. The bread is made fresh twice
a day, and they also prepare their own mozzarella, sausage, roasted peppers, and desserts on premises. “We try to make people feel at home,” explains Anthony. “The flavors of our food remind them of food prepared by their parents and grandparents.” Most of us on Long Island know and have come to love the “Grandma” pizza. Well, Umberto is the original creator of this thin-crusted, delicious recipe, one of which many pizzerias have imitated. With fresh plum tomatoes, lots of garlic, and imported olive oil, that’s Amore! So what is the secret to Umberto’s success? As he told the Daily News a couple of years ago: “Little things that other people don’t look for… I want to make sure that when somebody comes into my restaurant, if they spend $10, they get the best $10 possible.”

Though Umberto’s has truly left its mark on the pizza map, success did not come easy. Through their passion and hard work, Umberto and Carlo have made Umberto’s a tremendous culinary triumph, and they hope with true sincerity to be tossing pizza pies for many years to come.