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The Pizza You Love Is Back

October 14, 2013

by Valeriya Ponomarova

In the Pine Hills area, at a busy intersection well-known for its pizzerias, another shop has opened with its brightly lit neon signs – with the same familiar name, but, under different management.

Tony Khal sets out a pizza as opening day for I Love New York Pizza has already seen customers (Photo by Valeriya Ponomarova)

Tony Khal sets out a pizza as opening day for I Love New York Pizza has already seen customers. Photo by Valeriya Ponomarova.

A new I Love New York Pizza run by Tony Khal and Andrew Simsek opened Friday. The shop at 850 Madison Ave. is owned by Havzi Ipek, a partner is the business., partners with the owner of the building, Havzi Ipek. An I Love pizza shop was operated by the Camaj family there for about seven years before it shut down in 2012.

Khal said the new management has no connection with the previous owners and employees. With permission from the previous owners, Ipek and the partners kept the same name of the pizzeria because of its already-established familiarity with the Pine Hills residents. “I heard everybody loves I Love New York. It’s popular,” said Khal.

Ipek, one of the four brothers who do business as Z. Ipek & Sons, Inc., a general contracting company based out of Albany, couldn’t say for exactly how long the previous I Love New York Pizza was closed. However, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance tax warrant records show that the last warrant against the old pizzeria for unpaid taxes was filed more than a year ago on Sept. 26, 2012.

The City of Albany Department of Assessment and Taxation shows that the previous owners of this building, Lulja and Gjoka Camaj, had the place for about seven years after they bought the building on July, 15, 2005, from Stjefan and Nikola Ivezic. City records show that Ipek bought the building on 850 Madison Ave. on November 27, 2012, for $200,000.

The Camajs wanted to return to New York City, where they lived before running the pizzeria business in Albany, Ipek said. An apartment above the shop is rented out to a family that is unrelated to the pizzeria’s business, Ipek said.

The phone numbers that are listed on the Internet for the Camajs are out of service. City records show that the Camajs live on 34 Stillwell Ave. in Yonkers. There is no listing of a phone number for this location; however, a search for similar names in New York City yielded a source that claims he is Steven Camaj’s brother. He declined to give out his name, but said that the I Love New York Pizza on Madison Avenue shut down because the rent was too expensive, so Steven Camaj, who ran the pizzeria, went back to New York City.

I Love New York Pizza on 850 Madison Avenue opened on Friday under new management after it shut down in 2012 (Photo by Valeriya Ponomarova)

I Love New York Pizza on 850 Madison Avenue opened on Friday under new management after it shut down in 2012. Photo by Valeriya Ponomarova.

There are about 11 I Love New York Pizza restaurants in the Capital District. Four of them were counted in Albany, one in Troy, one in Guilderland, one in Colonie, one in Delmar, one in Ballston Spa, one in Schenectady and one in Clifton Park. Another I Love New York Pizza is located in Queensbury. They are not a chain of restaurants, according to Ipek. Sources at each of these pizzerias verified that they are in no way affiliated with the one on Madison Avenue.

“I used to actually go there, when it was open before,” said Paul Lafond, 22, who works security at Bogies on Ontario Street, around the corner from I Love New York Pizza. He never knew who the previous owners of the pizzeria were in the two years he’s been here, but is looking forward to going to I Love New York Pizza, again.

“My heart was really in opening something simple like a pizza place,” he said. Ipek isn’t threatened by the fact that three other pizza shops –  Paesan’s Pizza, Madison’s Pizza and for 32 years, Trio’s Pizzeria & Deli –  operate just a few building spaces away and across the street.

About three years ago, Khal worked for a few months at Madison’s Pizza, which was established in 1993. Ever since then, he thought of opening a pizza place here, he said. He was encouraged by friends and cousins, who’ve had experience with running pizza places, like Golden Grain Pizza in Clifton Park. They advised Khal that if he makes good quality pizzas and provides the best service, his will survive.

“It’s going to be a family business,” said Khal. He lives in Troy with his wife and 9-month-old son. He hopes to stay at this location and pass on the pizzeria to his son in the future. Khal said that his goal is to open some more businesses if this pizzeria does well.

One problem though, tudents don’t seem to be spending money as much as they used to, according to Joanis Neli, who works at Paesan’s Pizza across the road and around the corner on Ontario Street. “It’s hard to open a business these days,” he said.

Paesan’s Pizza has been operating since 1994, run by the Scavio family. Their prices range from a slice of vegetable pizza for $2.39 to a slice of Buffalo Chicken pizza for $2.89. Neli said that the opening of another pizzeria is going to slow down business for everybody, but that his pizzeria is the best and that if people are happy, they just keep going.

Store hours of the newly-opened I Love New York Pizza (Photo by Valeriya Ponomarova)

Store hours of the newly-opened I Love New York Pizza. Photo by Valeriya Ponomarova.

“Business is risky, but I’m not afraid of anything,” said Khal. I Love New York Pizza will open at 10 a.m. and close at 4 a.m. Thursday through Saturday and from will have shorter hours from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday.The shop will offer special prices on the menu and pizza slices to college students if they show proof of their student status. The partners will also visit college campuses to hand out fliers later this month.

The pizzeria will have subs, wings, rolls, Italian dinners like baked ziti, chicken parmesan, stuffed shells, ravioli and much more, according to Khal. One cheese pizza slice is $2, one pizza slice with a topping is $2.50 and the rest is $3, a calzone is $5.99, Stromboli is $7.99 and the drinks range from cans of soda at $1, bottles at $1.75 to a Red Bull at $3, according to Khal. For a comparison: at Madison’s Pizza, the costs of one cheese pizza slice, a pizza slice with a topping and the rest of the slices are the same as I Love New York Pizza.

The partners and owner will continuously try different suppliers for ingredients they feel taste best, Ipek said. According to him, this I Love New York Pizza is not using any of the recipes from the previous pizzeria at this location.

I Love New York Pizza’s goal is to stand out from the other pizzerias, said Khal. He plans to offer a Mediterranean special called Tantuni Wrap on the pizzeria’s menu. It is a wrap containing chopped meats and vegetables. “You’re not going to see that anywhere else but here,” said Khal.

The partners will have completed and ready menus to send out on Oct. 30. They have already mailed out about 260,000 fliers to residences in the surrounding areas.

Special discount offers this month courtesy of the pizzeria's opening (Photo by Valeriya Ponomarova)

Special discount offers this month courtesy of the pizzeria’s opening. Photo by Valeriya Ponomarova.

Khal said that they have an idea to create a special order option for the customers to request food any way they want to, kind of like a ‘make-your-own’ type. He said they will even deliver to areas like Whitehall Road, Central Avenue, Downtown Albany, State University at Albany and other places that he claims the nearby pizzerias don’t do.

“We’re going to be everywhere,” said Khal. “Whoever calls us, we always will come.” He has about five people helping him out with starting the business, but for now, the only people fully running it are Khal and Simsek. They will consider hiring more employees once they get a feel for how business is going.

Ipek will occasionally visit the pizzeria, see how the partners are doing and offer support. Since his wife runs Ipek’s La Bella Pizza in East Greenbush, he is familiar with the kind of community connectedness that occurs when the people doing business and their customers come to know each other. Here, he would like to create something even better. “You really have to love people to be in business … if you’re going to go in there just for the money, forget about it,” he added.

“He’s going to put a lot of money into making something better than the other places,” said David Venie about Ipek and the pizzeria. He worked for Ipek for nine years and was helping him put the finishing touches on the signs and exterior appearance of the pizzeria on opening day. “If he’s involved in it, it’s very good. I can tell you that much.”

On opening day, I Love New York Pizza served rolls and pizza slices to various customers, both new to the Pine Hills area and those that have been around for quite some time.

Pizza Supreme with broccoli, chicken, ricotta cheese and ranch dressing (Photo by Valeriya Ponomarova)

Pizza Supreme with broccoli, chicken, ricotta cheese and ranch dressing. Photo by Valeriya Ponomarova.

“Amazing. I love it,” said Jesus Frias between bites of his pizza. Frias is a sophomore student studying at the state University at Albany. He used to go to Madison’s Pizza, which he said is “okay,” but said that he would come to I Love New York Pizza, again. “I like this one better. They toast it better,” he added.

A visitor from New York City, James Brown, happened to stop by I Love New York Pizza because of its convenient location. He said he had no complaints about the pizzeria and that he felt the customer service was good.

It’s always important to make customers smile, Khal said. “We’re going to make them happy no matter what.”



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