Everyday Italian cuisine made fresh daily at Tony’s New York Pizza and Italian Restaurant
By Jessica Trovato
If you recently invested in a pizzeria that shares a name with at least two other local eateries, how do you set your business apart from the others? If you’re Mohamed Ahmed, owner of Tony’s New York Pizza and Italian Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue in Hagerstown, the answer is simple: go back to the basics.
Ahmed purchased the location two years ago on a suggestion from a friend, Jose Lopez. The timing was right and, given his life-long career in and passion for the food industry, the new venture seemed like the perfect fit.
“I stopped by and talked to Tony [Natale, the original owner] and it just went from there,” Ahmed says.
By the time Ahmed became owner, the restaurant had been a fixture in the Hagerstown dining scene, with few changes to the building and its interior and only one change of ownership since opening in 1983. One thing that had changed, however, was the original menu. Many of Tony’s frequent customers could taste the difference in the preparation of their favorite dishes, says Ahmed, and they were dismayed at the change after so many years.
Natale agreed to spend almost three months teaching Ahmed his original recipes, crafting family favorites such as the savory layered lasagna, a hearty portion of fresh ground beef tucked between baked ribbons of pasta, plenty of melted mozzarella and ricotta cheese, and perfectly seasoned homemade sauce.
Ahmed is also proud to bring back Tony’s classic Italian cannoli. Each sweet pastry is handmade and filled with smooth ricotta cheese topped with a layer of rich chocolate.
He makes sure to note that every sauce on the menu, which includes a variety of flavors such as meat, pesto, marinara, and cream, is made fresh daily from the original recipes. The bread and pizza dough are baked from scratch on site to ensure the highest quality.
“People love it,” Ahmed says, “They keep coming back for more.”
Ahmed’s vision for Tony’s New York Pizza is a pizzeria that focuses on authenticity but not at the sacrifice of affordability; offering a customer’s first choice of pizza delivery for a relaxing evening in, as well as the local restaurant preference for a fun family night out.
Indeed, family is a focal point for Ahmed. His brother, Ziad Ahmed, assists with the business as an accountant for the restaurant, allowing Mohamed more time to concentrate on the details of the food and needs of the customers and employees.
Ahmed also treats his employees like family, according to Christa Basore, a server at Tony’s, who doesn’t hesitate to speak positively of the working atmosphere at the restaurant.
“[Ahmed] answers the phones, cuts the pizzas, makes the food, runs the food, busses the tables. I mean, he literally does everything. He’s not afraid to get involved in anything,” she says.
Basore, a veteran of the food and service industry, could tell that Ahmed’s managerial style was not that of your run-of-the-mill restaurant owner when she came onboard a few months ago.
“When I came here and started working with him, I was like ‘Wow, you’re interesting!’ I mean that in a good way. He’s not like anyone I’ve worked for in a long time. He’s hands on, not just here watching all the time. His number one concern is the customer.”
As evidence, Basore points to how easy it is for customers to make modifications or add to their menu choices. For example, the taco salad, as described on the menu, comes with beef or chicken, but a regular customer always orders it with buffalo crispy chicken. In another instance, if a party of four orders lasagna, one diner can be served a portion without sausage, one can be served without ricotta, one can be served with extra sauce, and one can be served with extra mozzarella—an unusual feat at a restaurant that serves pre-made food but no sweat at Tony’s.
“If the customer wants it and we have it, make ‘em happy,” says Basore. “I’ve been in this industry a long time and not a lot of people have that frame of mind anymore.”
The relaxed, unpretentious family atmosphere and décor at Tony’s brings back nostalgic feelings of the decade in which it originally opened.
“One of my favorite childhood memories was going out to the pizza joint as a family on a Friday or Saturday night, sitting around a big table all laughing, getting pizza and sodas, and being able to run around,” Basore recalls with a wistful smile, noting that families are more than welcome to do just that at Tony’s.
The restaurant is punctuated with a colorful fish tank and a TV that Basore claims with a laugh is always tuned to “Deal or No Deal.”
While there may be potential deals being made in cases on screen, even better deals can be had daily served on the plates at Tony’s.
Spaghetti dinners, made to order with the diner’s choice of sauce, are always buy one get one 50% off. Date night is affordable every night when two complete lasagna meals, including side salad and garlic bread or roll, are always $26.99.
The most budget-friendly special on Tony’s menu fills the belly without breaking the bank. For $4.75, any day of the week, hungry customers can enjoy two large slices of New York-style cheese pizza and a 20 oz. drink, all served up in just “2 to 3 minutes,” says Basore.
This efficiency is key to those who are looking to grab a meal on their lunch break and need to keep a watchful eye on the clock. Because of the restaurant’s central location close to I-81, Hagerstown Regional Airport, and many industrial facilities, lunch hour at Tony’s often sees the dining room filled with truck drivers and local employees looking for a quick bite. A parking area behind the pizzeria affords plenty of space for truckers to park their rigs, notes Basore.
Jason Bird, an employee of nearby IT services company Berry Solutions Group, stopped by Tony’s with a few coworkers for lunch on a recent weekday. A self-admitted regular, Bird says he usually visits three days a week on his lunch break to enjoy his favorite fare.
“Steak and cheese with jalapenos—every time!” he raves.
“The friendly staff, consistency, and quality of food,” easily draw him back, Bird says, in addition to the fast service.
One of the restaurant’s unique highlights are the two large rooms separate from the dining area that can accommodate parties of up to 30 and 60 people, respectively. Ahmed doesn’t charge a fee for diners to reserve either space as long as they place an order from the menu. From families celebrating important milestones such as birthdays and graduations, to local organizations holding meetings and holiday parties, big groups are welcome to use the ample space to fit their needs.
Whether you are looking for a quick, delicious, and affordable lunch; in the mood for a made-from-scratch Italian meal for date night; or need a space to celebrate with food and friends, Ahmed and his staff at Tony’s are happy to welcome you to the family.