An offshoot of the now-closed Whit’s End in Rockaway, Slice O’ Whit was shuttered by authorities earlier this week, marking the second time the popular but polarizing restaurateur Whitney Aycock has been forced out of a location in less than a year — a timeline marked by a string of bizarre headline-grabbing incidents and related court battles.
Aycock — dubbed the “Pizza Nazi” of Rockaway Beach — announced the closing of his beachside spot Slice O’ Whit at Jacob Riis Park on Monday, telling followers on social media that “the small simple-minded fools that oversee this beautiful national park have deemed us federally offensive. So be it. Happily so! Fuckem!”
Later, on Instagram, the cantankerous pie-slinger posted a photo of the termination letter, which cited “ongoing complaints” about his operation at Riis.
The full text of the letter was obstructed by what appeared to be packaging for a hash-infused lollipop — a none-too-subtle hint that Aycock isn’t letting this latest setback interfere with his long-standing don’t-give-a-fuck attitude.
In a statement, organizers of the Riis Park Beach Bazaar, who oversee concessions at the federally run property, indicated that the National Park Service had a slew of issues with Aycock’s business, including “ignoring Park Ranger and NPS directives, complaints from park goers ranging from ‘volume of music’ to ‘lewd signage,’ as well as disregard of NPS operating procedures and recommendations.”
Attempts to “moderate and work out the differences between the two” proved unsuccessful, wrote co-founder of Riis Park Beach Bazaar Belvy Klein, who described Aycock’s removal from the park as unfortunate. “Throughout his tenure with us Whit has consistently received raves for producing some of the very best pizza in all of NYC — both the local community and beach goers alike will definitely miss his food,” wrote Klein.
During an interview earlier this summer, Aycock acknowledged lingering tension with his government overseers at Riis. “Even the feds, they want to give me grief about how I write something,” he said, referring to his menu descriptions, like “black ass brussels,” “quick ass ceviche,” and “spicy shit.”
Aycock's Zero-Fucks Attitude
To say that conflict follows the enigmatic 43-year-old restaurateur is an understatement. After opening Whit’s End in Rockaway in 2013, Aycock’s unabashedly brusque, profanity-laden persona and Draconian menu rules (“We don’t add toppings, well maybe for $50,”) earned him the “Pizza Nazi” name and helped make him an anti-hero.
In person, Aycock can be either an extremely gracious host or a gruff and insulting brute, depending on the patron and how well that person appreciates his unique brand of hospitality.
“In the food business and the bar business, you can’t cater to everybody,” he said during an interview earlier this summer. “You can’t just open the door and say, ‘OK, everybody in the world come in the door and I’m here to do anything you want.’ Two fucks given to all those motherfuckers, you know what I mean?”
Last August, his legend took a strange turn when he was arrested for allegedly growing marijuana in the restaurant’s backyard. News of the incident went viral, thanks to Aycock’s apparent attempts to provide alternative explanations for the suspected contraband, calling it “lemon verbena” and “catnip.”
Authorities ultimately dropped the marijuana charge, and Aycock pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and paid a small fine, court records show.
Nonetheless, the incident set off a series of tumultuous events, beginning with Aycock’s landlord moving to evict him. In court papers, owners of the Playland Motel, where the restaurant was located, argued that Aycock had no right to even use that part of the backyard, much less to use it for an illegal purpose like growing weed.
The landlord-tenant dispute became even more contentious after Aycock’s arrest in December for removing a valuable Stefano Ferrara-brand pizza oven from the premises, a piece of equipment that both sides claimed to own.
Just last week, Aycock seemed to have finally put the whole legal drama behind him.
Appearing in Queens County Criminal Court on Thursday, dressed in a striped polo, jeans, flip-flops, and a pair of shades perched atop his sun-scorched dome, Aycock agreed to pay $6,000 in restitution for his role in the oven’s removal. He also pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, and pledged to stay out of further legal trouble for the next year or face possible jail time.
Prosecutors originally charged Aycock with one felony count of criminal mischief, accusing him and a friend of cutting out a window in the wall of the former restaurant on Rockaway Beach Boulevard and using a forklift to extract the very heavy, very expensive Italian-made oven.
Aycock has insisted all along that he did nothing wrong. “When I left, I took the oven with me because it’s my oven,” he said in a prior interview. “At first, they said I broke into the building, which I didn’t. I still had a key. I was still a leaseholder. I went in and removed my belongings, as anybody else would do.”
The Great OvenGate
Both sides claimed to have documentation proving ownership of the oven. Complicating matters is the fact that Aycock appeared to have multiple Stefano Ferrara ovens, including a separate one that he was using at Jacob Riis Park. The murky ownership situation perhaps explains why Aycock was never charged with grand larceny in the case.
Considered the gold standard in wood-fired pizza making, Stefano Ferrara ovens can cost tens of thousands of dollars. At an earlier hearing, prosecutors offered Aycock the choice of either paying $12,000 in restitution — a sum equal to 1,000 of his margherita pies ($12 each) — or simply returning the missing oven.
Last week’s plea deal allowed Aycock to avoid criminal liability in the case and to keep his precious oven, which has remained hidden away ever since. “I guess they’ve been looking for that oven for a while now,” Joseph Mure, Jr., Aycock’s attorney said in a phone interview.
But the fallout from the whole debacle is plain to see. Both Playland and Aycock’s restaurant have closed — a downfall for a hotel-restaurant property that the New York Times once built up as the Rockaways’ answer to Montauk’s hipster-magnet Surf Lodge.
In a prior interview, Aycock said he had no regrets. “That was a great thing to begin, man, and you know what? Fuck it, bro, great memories!”
In this business, he said, turmoil simply comes with the territory. “It’s a volatile industry, it really is,” he said. “Booze, drugs, money, ideas, concepts — the whole fucking shit is just so ‘whew!’”
Will Fans Follow Aycock's Next Move?
Despite all the drama that surrounds him, Aycock has cultivated a loyal fan base, which is remarkably hard to categorize but is bound to follow him whatever he chooses to do next.
“His range of friendships or acquaintances that he brings into his family, when he’s holding court in a restaurant, runs the gamut from staunch Trump supporters to militant lesbian anarchists,” said Eugene Cleghorn, co-owner of the boardwalk taqueria Super Burrito, who previously worked as a cook at Whit’s End. In a world presently consumed with political correctness, Cleghorn suggested that Aycock’s defiant, free-wheeling style resonates with a lot of different people.
The same could be said for his food. “He cooks what he wants and what he knows is going to be awesome and damn delicious,” says Tracy Obolsky, owner of Rockaway Beach Bakery. “He doesn't let people get in his ear or tell him what he should cook.”
Both Cleghorn and Oblosky credit Aycock with helping them start their own respective businesses, describing him as an inspiring, generous man and an indispensable fixer in almost any scenario. “He’s the Godfather of Rockaway,” says Cleghorn. “Anything you need, he knows a guy.”
Suffice to say it, the embattled restaurateur isn’t going away. He still has another location, a low-key marina-area hangout called Ole Man Chill, which is exactly where he directed his Instagram followers to go in the wake of his ejection from Riis.
And he’s been plotting to open another restaurant for months. Back in June, Aycock indicated that he’s been actively looking at spaces.
Now that the whole legal drama is behind him, he might finally bring his original Whit’s End oven out of hiding, though he also indicated that his next place may or may not involve pizza.
Standing beside a blazing oven at Riis earlier this summer Aycock noted, “You can cook anything in these motherfuckers — anything, bro.”