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Albany Loves New York Pizza

March 25, 2010

by Michael Bellizzi

ALBANY, N.Y. – In Albany’s Pine Hills neighborhood, residents like Lizzie Edwards refer to the businesses in this area as “small, vibrant, and exciting.”

If this is the case, then the residents of the Pine Hills shouldn’t have a hard time finding I Love New York Pizza. Voted by Times Union readers as the best pizza in the Capital Region in 2009, I Love New York Pizza prides itself on its commitment to the neighborhood and surrounding community. Whether it is their flashy neon lighting, or the stampede of college students rushing the doors on a weekend night for dollar slices, I Love New York Pizza is among the most successful and customer-friendly businesses in the neighborhood today.

This Albanian-Italian family business is based primarily in New York state. The beginnings of I Love New York Pizza date back to 1988 when Michael Camaj then founded the first of all I Love New York pizza shops just across the river in Troy. Since then, 13 additional “I Love” pizza shops have opened their doors for business.

In 2005, the shop made its way to the Pine Hills when Camaj’s younger cousin, Steve Camaj, opened his own “I Love” shop on Madison Avenue. And while I Love New York Pizza is a family owned business, Steve Camaj said that each individual shop has its unique style apart from all the others.

“All the other shops are run by family too, but everybody has their own place, their own ingredients, stuff like that,” Camaj said. “Each shop does something different from the others to make it their own.”

Located on 850 Madison Ave., I Love New York Pizza is open daily from noontime until approximately four in the morning. While the shop has had a tremendous amount of success, Camaj said the location of his shop is at times his business’s best friend and worst enemy. Because I Love New York Pizza is right around the corner from The College of Saint Rose, Camaj said that when school is in session, business is great, but when school’s out, business slows dramatically.

“Fifty percent of our business drops during the summertime,” Camaj said.  “[Saint Rose students] are the best. We try to take care of them because they take care of us and we love doing business with them.”

Camaj’s employees seem to agree with him as well. In an effort to attract customers to his store, Camaj’s staff consists of young, energetic family members who are primarily college-aged and who usually run the night shift at the shop. Two of Steve’s employees, his 21-year-old cousin Jack, and 19-year-old brother, George, agree that they serve an important role in the business because of their youth.

“We’re all on the same page, and because our age is where it is we can relate to our customers and hope that they come back because we can understand them,” said Jack Camaj.

The family plans to maintain its current location.

“I’m looking to stay here for a long time,” said Steve Camaj, who is 33. “My younger brother George is in good health, so I know if anything ever happened to me he would keep this thing going.”

Another employee under Camaj and a former Saint Rose student, Joe Mariano, said that as long as everyone stays together prosperity will ultimately follow.

“These guys are family to me and we each trust each other and know that if we remain a team the sky is the absolute limit here…and in time we can make this into something very special.”

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