How Star-Shaped Pizza Turned an Old-School NYC Pizzeria Into an Instagram Icon

Photo credit: Matt Maschi/Patrizia's
Introducing OpenTable’s Signature Dish column, in which we take a look at a restaurant’s standout item and how it rose to the top. First up is the unique star pizza from New York City Italian restaurant chain Patrizia’s.

The image is immediately recognizable: a star-shaped pizza that appears like a growing constellation on Instagram. It’s a shock to see for those used to a traditional circular pie, so it stops mindless feed scrolling in its tracks. Which was exactly the point, says Patrizia’s Matt Maschi.

Maschi is the director of marketing and social media at the family-owned New York City Italian restaurant that grew from one location in the Bronx to 12 across the tri-state area in the last nearly 30 years. When the team was opening its Manhattan location in 2015, Maschi knew the restaurant needed a novelty to attract diners in the sleepier dining neighborhood of Murray Hill, especially since the two previous Italian restaurants in that space “both failed within a couple years of opening,” he says. The star-shaped pizza was his winning solution.

“It was like wildfire. Pizza sales skyrocketed,” Maschi says. “Now we’ve been there almost six years, and it’s actually turned into one of our top-earning restaurants.”

Maschi and general manager Gennaro Frezza created the pizza after seeing respected pizzerias in Naples make the star shape and wondering why no one in New York was doing it. It’s just a typical Neapolitan pie — made with double-zero flour, Italian tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil and cooked in a 900-degree oven — but with a bit of a glow-up: The crust is pinched into a star shape, with more mozzarella stuffed inside.

Four cheese-stuffed pasta in a pink sauce with peas, mushrooms, and prosciutto

Four cheese-stuffed pasta in a pink sauce with peas, mushrooms, and prosciutto | Photo Credit: Matt Maschi/Patrizia’s

Maschi knew it could be a hit, but that people needed to know about it. So he invited a ton of influencers into the restaurant to try the “stella,” or star in Italian. It worked: They shared photos of the dish on Instagram, eventually causing media outlets to take notice. Insider created a video with millions of viewers and Food Network showed up, along with a deluge of other press. The star pizza is now the restaurant’s signature dish.

Maschi says the only reason the pizza works is because it actually tastes good, starting with high-quality ingredients imported from Italy.

“It’s not just for looks; it’s for taste. The look is to get people to come in and try it, and we hope then try our seafood and pastas and specials and steak and find them really good,” he says. “It all came together. It was the perfect storm of marketing meets good-quality food.”

Patrizia’s first opened in the Bronx in Tremont in 1991 from Giacomo and Gennaro Alaio, two brothers who moved to NYC from Italy as children. They worked their way up in various neighborhood pizzerias until they saved enough to open their own shop, eventually making enough money to open the first full-service Patrizia’s. Though the restaurant does serve pizza, there’s a more wide-ranging menu of Italian and Italian-American classics like shrimp francese, fried calamari, veal marsala, and penne alla vodka. It wasn’t until 2008 when the Alaios partnered with their friend Lou Maschi — Matt Maschi’s father — to open the second location in Williamsburg. Since then, there’s been a new opening every couple of years.

The menu stays the same at most locations, though the stella is the clear standout in Manhattan, where it makes that location the top in pizza sales. Since then, Patrizia’s has also introduced a “mezzaluna” pizza that combines a pie with a calzone by folding over half of the pizza. Maschi is always on the hunt for the next big thing.

“Sometimes I do sit here and think, ‘What can be the next thing?’ We don’t care about selling a ton of pizza,” he says. “It was to get people in the door to realize how good our other food is. And it worked.”