In 1938, Salvatore “Sally” Consiglio and his family opened Sally’s Apizza on Wooster Street in New Haven. Over the decades, Sally’s became a legendary pizza spot and, along with Frank Pepe’s down the block, helped make New Haven pizza a nationally recognized delicacy. Salvatore’s sons, Bobby, 70, and his younger brother Rick, ran Sally’s in recent years but sold to Lineage Hospitality, an investment consortium, last year. The brothers continue to run the New Haven pizzeria and serve as consultants to the company, which is slated to open a second location at the SoNo Collection mall in Norwalk. More locations are in the works.
What is you and your brother’s role in the new location in Norwalk?
We’re consultants. We’re watching to keep the product the same. We look and see who’s good at what they’re doing. Some people have a gift as far as cooking, as far as making the pie. Some people can never learn it, other people pick it up right away.
For those who can’t learn it, what’s a common mistake?
It’s not really a mistake. It’s a craft. I can teach you how to write, but you might not ever be able to write legibly. It’s something that really there’s no substitute for experience. So it takes a while before you can even tell if anybody is gonna be good at it. My dad used to say to teach somebody to bake on that oven takes about six months before you can really tell if they’re going to be good.
New Haven pizza in general is something people talk about far, far beyond New Haven and even Connecticut. What characterizes “New Haven pizza”?
I don’t know if I’m the one to answer that. I’ve never really eaten any pizza other than what we made here. At one time I lived in Boston, I went to school there, and a group of us would have lunch and one day everybody wanted to go for pizza, and I went and I ordered a slice. That was the only pizza I ever recall eating other than here. I also think I had a slice in Rome. It was a white potato pie and it was good and now we sell it.
Wait, you’ve never had New York pizza?
No, never. I’ve walked by a few places in New York. That was about it.
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In New Haven, you’ve never had Pepe’s or Modern?
No. I’ve been in Pepe’s a lot in my youth. That was my father’s uncle. We’d go and visit on Sundays. He lived upstairs from the place, but I never ate it.
Speaking of Pepe’s, there’s always that big debate over which of you is better. What is your relationship with the owners of Pepe’s?
We’re cousins. My cousin Tony, who was the one who brokered the whole Pepe’s deal with the expansion, we’re fishing buddies. We’ve taken fly-fishing trips out to Montana together. So there’s no real competition. Among customers, I would equate it to the Red Sox-Yankees thing.
So you don’t see Pepe’s as a rival?
There’s no rivalry between us. No rivalry at all. Never has been. As a matter of fact, when my father opened in ’38 — as a young boy, he worked for his uncle Frank Pepe, and when they started doing this place, Uncle Frank helped. He helped him with any knowledge he could share with him. Or if we ran out of yeast, my dad would send me down there to borrow some yeast for him. There’s no animosity between us ever, whatsoever.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I go around the world fly fishing. That’s a big part of my life.
What is the secret to Sally’s pie?
When I was making pizza, I would make it every time like I was making it for my own family.
Can you talk about some of what makes it taste different, though?
Not without really giving out basic recipes. Yeah, it is different, but I know why. I told Dan [manager of special projects at Lineage Hospitality] why. Rick knows why, but that’s as far as it’s going.
Top secret ...
I can say we make a very light dough as opposed to what my father would refer to — he would see the pizza guys throwing it up in the air and spinning it — and call that “bread dough.” You couldn’t do that with pizza dough because your hands would go right through it.
What would you say to someone who is maybe skeptical that the new place in Norwalk, or new locations elsewhere, will live up to the quality of the original?
Myself, when the new place opens, I’ll try the pizza. So I’ll be able to say I ate someplace else.
He ate it his way: Tony Consiglio, Sal’s brother, went to high school with Frank Sinatra. In 1940, when Sinatra performed in New Haven with the Tommy Dorsey Band, Tony asked Sal to stay open late, and the pizzeria ended up feeding all 22 members of the band free of charge. Sinatra became a fan and Tony had Sally’s pizza delivered to Sinatra any time he had a show in New York. Other celebrities reported to have stopped at Sally’s for a pie include Buddy Rich, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and John F. Kennedy.