New York and New Tampa.
In many ways the two are vastly different; one a bustling, busy metropolis filled with over 8 million people, another a calmer, residential-suburb of Tampa, with around 66,000 people.
Yet, what makes these places incredibly similar is the people.
Yes, many of New Tampa’s idyllic communities are filled with former residents of New York who have brought a culinary style all their own to Tampa. People such as Steve Falabella, the dedicated, hard-working owner of 900 Degrees Woodfired Pizza, located at the Shops at Wiregrass.
“I wanted to open a place where you’d get that true New York style,” Steve explains. “I tried it and it worked.”
“Because people feel like they are at home here,” he explains. “For example, we sell an authentic New York-style pizza that tastes just like the kind you’d find in the city, Long Island, or New Jersey.”
All of the New York-style pizzas are 16”, include a hand tossed golden brown crust, the finest shredded cheese and 900 Degrees’ original blend of puree and tomato pizza sauce. All toppings are cooked fresh and are sold by the slice as well.
Steve, who grew up in Brooklyn and also Long Island, got his start in the restaurant business in junior high and continued working in it through college.
After graduation, he started a successful career in IT and later began to desire to return to his “first love”, the pizza business.
“I wanted to go back to those junior high days, I missed it,” he remarks. “I also had fallen in love with an Italian girl, married her, and spent a significant amount of time in Italy where I learned how to make a ‘true’ Neapolitan pizza from the best.”
It was in Italy that Steve learned how to make fresh mozzarella “the old fashioned way, with a big pot and a step stool” and also learned how to make sauce from peeled plum tomatoes from San Marzano tomatoes, “some of the finest in the world,” he notes.
Today, in his restaurant, Steve implements these same purist principles when it comes to making pizza: his wood-firing style is done just like a local pizzeria in Italy, his mozzarella is made fresh “in house” with a big pot and stool and, perhaps most significantly, are the San Marzano tomatoes that he uses for his pizza sauce.
“We ship those in from Italy and make them into a fresh puree by hand. You'll rarely find that anywhere else. From the dough, to the sauce, to the cheese, we do many things differently,” he explains.
Another thing Steve does differently for a pizza restaurant is serve Italian ice. “In New York, you can go into a pizza shop and get Italian ice, it’s very common, but almost unheard of here.”
“Our Italian ice is very popular. We sell about 30 gallons a week, about 3,000 Italian ices a month. Our flavors range from cherry, lemon, strawberry, and mango and are $1.95 each,” he notes.
900 Degrees also has a uniquely delicious Nutella pizza. “It’s a wood-fired crust, topped with Nutella, strawberries and bananas,” Steve explains. “Another popular item is our Nutella knots which are deep fried and drizzled over with Nutella chocolate and also our cannoli with Nutella.”
In addition to these decadent desserts, 900 Degrees offers New York cheesecakes made by a local business called Mike’s. “People love them,” he suggests.
Another thing people love about 900 Degrees is the personal touch that Steve and his employees add to their craft. “People feel at home here,” he contends. “We have been here for 5 years and much of my customer-base is by word-of-mouth. People try our pizza and we take care of our customers and because of that, they keep coming back.”
900 Degrees also partners with many local sports teams, churches, and other organizations to do fundraising events.
For Steve, it’s all about supporting the local community, of which he lives in and loves and to bring his own unique, authentic New York/Italian style to the area.
For him, his work is more an art or a craft, one that many enjoy each day.