Roberto Caporuscio has designed Keste Pizza & Vino — opening Thursday at 77 Fulton Street — around an 1856 depiction of a pizzeria in Naples. The 5,000-square-foot space includes a pizza school he’s helming with his daughter, Giorgia Caporuscio, who’s also an accomplished pizzaiola who went to culinary school in Italy before joining the family business. It’s the fourth restaurant in the New York Keste family, which includes locations in the West Village and Williamsburg as well as Don Antonio.
Caporuscio based the design on a set of limited-edition books he bought nearly 20 years ago, when he paid somewhere around $2,000 for “Usi E Costumi,” depicting guys like the arrotino who sharpens knives, along with the pizzaiolo. The latter depiction includes what’s become a pretty recognizable imprint of a formidable man in a scarf sitting at a table with two pizzas in front of him.
The text addresses what one would find in a pizzeria of the era — from the tiles to the wooden-backed chairs with rattan seats. It’s the framework that set the stage for the second location of Keste, which is on track to open Thursday.
Caporuscio’s name is familiar to pizza geeks, who would cite him, along with Anthony Mangieri of Una Pizza Napolitana, as helping to introduce Neapolitan pizza to the U.S., with its “00” Caputo flour, buffalo mozzarella, and San Marzano tomatoes. It differs from New York-Neapolitan style pizza, which encourages more flexibility in terms of ingredients, and allows for a longer bake.
Caporuscio opened Keste — “This is it,” in Neapolitan dialect — in 2009 in Greenwich Village. He moved to the area from Pittsburgh, where he ran a Neapolitan pizzeria for a few years until around 2007, when he moved to run a place in New Jersey before landing in Manhattan. Roberto grew up on a farm outside of Naples and started his life’s work as a cheesemaker before he switched paths to become a pizzaiolo.
Inside his newest spot, you’ll find an 85-seat dining room with those classic chairs, tiles from Positano on the Amalfi coast, stonework from Lecce, as well as wood and copper accents. There's also a section of the space designated for the pizza school, where a wood-and-gas powered Acunto oven anchors one corner of the kitchen and teaching area. Another oven on wheels with a rotating deck centers the space, while a copper framed electric oven sits on the far side of the room.
The pizza school reflects a current trend in Italy, but it’s also part of what Caporuscio has been doing all along. Since he moved to New York, he’s taught over 150 people who run 45 restaurants around the world. But the pizza school isn’t just for professionals; it’s for lay people, too.
The restaurant and school feature screens and cameras that focus on the counter and the kitchen, so students and diners can watch cooks in action. It’s all live-streamed, so anyone can watch as Roberto makes his irregular-shaped pizzas or as Giorgia creates more perfect round ones.
Though Keste will have 20 variations of pizza on the menu, it’s mostly within the Neapolitan genre, since Caporuscio the U.S. president of the AVPN (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana), the Italian association that governs the standards for Neapolitan pizzas. In addition to pizza made from the standard and organic Caputo flour, he offers gluten-free pizza that he says accounts for ten percent of the business.
Behind the bar, Enomatic dispensers store all-Italian varietals that run from $10 to $80 a glass. The array of prices show an intention to court those of modest means as well as fat cats. It’s part of pizza’s allure.
“Pizza is the most important social food,” he says, pointing to communal tables and close quarters of a pizzeria, compared to a fine dining spot or a steakhouse. “Few other foods bring people together in this way.”