By Marjorie Rice
When brothers Greg and Scott Ziegler moved from Long Island, N.Y., to Arizona, they made a disappointing discovery: the pizza here just didn’t measure up to the New York pizzas they loved and missed.
So they did what many immigrants to the state have done before them when they hungered for a restaurant serving up a taste of home, they did it themselves, opening New York Pizza Dept. (NYPD Pizza) in 1996.
They started in their apartment, testing various dishes, making pizza for friends using flour and ovens from New York and recipes that had been in the family for generations – even making their own sausage.
But there was a stumbling block. Try as they might, the pizza crust wasn’t the same.
After much tasting and testing, they discovered it was the water. They brought water from Yonkers, N.Y., made dough and voila! They captured the authentic New York taste.
“The best pizza in the world comes from New York and it’s because of the water,” said Nikki West, NYPD Pizza CEO. “To this day we get 10 gallons of Yonkers water delivered every six months to Culligan, I meet them there, we break it all down and we match it.”
All of the water they use for cooking and drinking matches that Yonkers profile, West said.
“We’re absolutely uncompromising in all of our ingredients,” she added.
“We require at least half of our produce to be locally sourced, we use only whole-milk mozzarella and our tomatoes are hand-steamed and handpeeled. It’s one of our founding values.”
The result is an extensive menu offering a variety of New York and Sicilian-style pizzas – the Brooklyn family pizza topped with fat slices of pepperoni and succulent, house-made sausage and fresh basil is a customer favorite – along with calzones, lasagna, baked ziti, spaghetti and meatballs and other traditional Italian dishes. There’s also a lengthy salad menu, including the popular SOHO salad pizza, a crisp disc of pizza dough baked with garlic and mozzarella and topped with spring mix, tomatoes, almond and feta.
Other favorites are garlic knots, dusted with garlic, sesame seeds and Romano and served with marinara dipping sauce. And don’t pass up the zeppoli sundae. Zeppolis are made from bits of pizza dough, fried and tossed with cinnamon and sugar. To gild the lily, NYPD tops them with ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce.
Customers liked the authentic New York tastes and the company grew.
Today NYPD Pizza has eight restaurants throughout the Valley, including the North Central location in the Colonnade shopping center, plus two locations inside Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
In 2007 the brothers moved on to other ventures, and West and another financial investor took over as majority owners.
Becoming CEO capped a culinary career that began for West at a very early age.
“I used a fake ID to get my first job when I was 14,” the Texas native said. She worked for Hillstone Restaurant Group, which operates Houston’s restaurants, for 17 years, rising to regional manager for Houston’s locations in several states. West and her husband moved to Arizona and she worked with Aramark before joining NYPD Pizza as CEO in 2007. That’s chief “experience” officer – not “executive.”
“I am not an executive, I’m in charge of our customers’ and team members’ experience,” West said. “From those first days, what I loved about our industry is that we get to make magic hundreds of times a day, and it’s a different way every single time.”
One way her company makes magic is through community service, which West calls another founding value.
“It’s an honor to be able to give back, and it’s also a responsibility,” she said. “Our customers bless us with their loyalty. One way we give back is through our Dough Raiser program,” she said.
Customers can bring in a flyer from a non-profit or school and the restaurant will donate 20 percent of each customer’s sale to the organization. In December the Every Kid Deserves program distributes toys brought in by customers.
“Customers bring in new toys – we don’t monitor but we ask that the toys are valued at $10 or more – and we give them a coupon for a free pizza for each toy donated,” West said. The program begins on Wednesday, Dec. 8.
NYPD Pizza’s North Central location at 1949 E. Camelback Road in the Camelback Colonnade shopping center, is open from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Mondays to Thursdays, and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays. For information, call 602-294-6969 or visit https://aznypdpizza.com.