When New York City announced the shutdown, Benedetto “Ben” Davi, owner of Underground Pizza, said to his manager, who is also his nephew, “I’m not closing or turning my back on people who need to eat.” Davi told his workers to feel free to stay home, that he didn’t want to put demands on them or jeopardize their health. “It’s so tough,” he told the Downtown Alliance. “I’m losing money, but to me, it’s not just about business. It’s about community and the people who put me here. If I have to work by myself, I’ll make it happen.”
Drawing from the breads and pastas of his childhood in a small town in Sicily, Davi has owned Underground Pizza in Lower Manhattan for almost 40 years. The unique name refers to his shop’s start in a basement on Pearl Street, when he was a determined kid building his future with the help of his parents. Decades later, he serves delicious pies from a cozy storefront at 3 Hanover Square. He tries to bring his family ethics into his work, emphasizing quality ingredients, consideration for his co-workers and warm, generous service.
“I make it myself so I know it’s good,” he said, “and it makes me happy because it came from my hands. Make things with your heart, be communicative and be nice.”
These days Davi listens to rock and roll and keeps busy with calls, cleaning and donations. He has matched customers’ donation-orders to NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital (“You donate 10, I’ll donate 10”) and sends pies to individuals when he hears they’re stressed or tired. “I’m a strong believer in the little guy,” Davi said. “Don’t forget the shoemaker, the person at the wine store, people of the Financial District who have been here so long — they are reality.”
In the midst of uncertainty, Davi has tremendous appreciation for his wife and for his workers who have stood by him, as well as tenants in the building who kindly support him by buying pies. “There is one lady: I know she’s buying more to help me than she could possibly eat,” he laughed. Likewise, his customers purchase gifts for others. Davi: “Small amounts, but it keeps growing. I have it posted on the wall, and workers can come in and pick up whatever they like. I know it’s not a lot, but right now $500 can feel like five million.”
Take it one day at a time is Davi’s current mindset, as he’s witnessed similar struggles in the recent past. “After 9/11 I was able to stand on my own two feet,” Davi said, “but I don’t know where this moment is going to take us. Even if I live to be 100, I’ll always talk about this, and how close it came to destroying us. But today I’m still standing.”
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