Welcome to a Pizza Week 2014 edition of Lifers, a feature in which Eater interviews the men and women who have worked in the restaurant industry for the better part of their lives, sharing their stories and more.
Photos by Elizabeth Daniels
Ned and his sister Andrea Martorana were basically born into the family business, an Eagle Rock institution known as Casa Bianca Pizza Pie, which has been serving generations of Angelenos some of the best pizza since 1955. Founded by their parents, Sam and Jennie Martorana, as well as their uncle Joe, the recipes for Casa Bianca were founded upon Italian-American tradition and perfected over the years. Since 1995, Ned and Andrea have taken the reigns of the restaurant and continue to maintain the excellent standards set by their parents. Here now, Ned talks to Eater about how he got into the family business, his day-to-day diary, and what's changed over the years.
How did you start working at the restaurant? We grew up in the business. I did take a side step and go to college. I actually studied music for a while but then in my 30's, I came to work here. My father didn't have a problem with it because I had known it and understood it. It was an easy transition. Since then I've done every aspect of the business.
What do you do right now? Ever since my parents started losing their health,my sister and I started assuming more responsibilities. They've since passed away and it's been in our hands for almost twenty years now. I started working here full time in 1995.
What's your favorite part of working here? The challenge here is making sure things run smoothly. There are thousand things that go wrong over the course of a day or week. Employee problems, delivery issues. Everything has to run right up until we open at 4 p.m.
What's changed at the restaurant since you took over? Not much has changed in the system. It's a repeatable system that my dad set up a long time ago. There's no reason to change it, we just have to maintain it. In terms of business not much has changed, but I think people tend to eat out more than they did twenty years ago. Eating out is now part of the American experience. I think perhaps because both sexes are working to support the family. I also think more young people are eating out.
Have you had any unusual experiences or occurrences happen here over the years? Well, I think the movies do a pretty good job of showing those bad experiences in restaurants. For the most part, all of my customers are good people. Sometimes you have a homeless person wander in and smell up the place or disturb people. But the main thing that every restaurateur is afraid of is equipment failure. Refrigerators are the heart of the restaurant business and every now and then they're break.
What's your normal day like, from morning until evening? Generally from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., it's all prep work and checking in deliveries. Thursdays to Saturday I do a double shift, those are my long days. On other days, I go home in the evenings and Andrea takes over for the night.
How many people would you say you serve on a busy night? Our seating capacity is close to 100, so on a Friday or Saturday night we'll turn them three or four times. We also do a lot of take out, it's about fifty-fifty between take out and dine-in.
What are some of your favorite things on the menu? We have great pasta and pizza combinations. I think the classic combination is sausage, mushroom and bell pepper. Also the eggplant, sausage, and garlic. My parents introduced that eggplant back in the 1970s. No one was doing that fried eggplant back then. I love the pesto, so if you like garlic and basil, that's really good. Also the pasta al forno, which is really big and travels well. It's great for parties because it stays warm. Finally, the antipasto salad, which is loaded with different cheeses, olives, tomatoes. It's a very tasty salad, and filling too.
How does it feel continuing on the family tradition and a local institution? It's a responsibility. My parents made a lot of friends over the years. And their friends have become our friends. We don't want to disappoint them. Our job is to maintain the standards that they've set up. I see no reason to change anything because it's already a successful operation.
Would you ever expand the restaurant into another location? I don't know if that's a possibility. With this economy, I'm not thinking of expanding. It's too unpredictable, just ask any restaurateur. But things have been picking up, especially on the weekends.
What's your biggest challenge? Coming in every day. I'm 60 years old.