The father-and-son team behind Prince Street Pizza, one of New York City’s most popular slice shops, is stepping down from day-to-day operations after food blogger Joe Rosenthal resurfaced racist comments made by the pizzeria’s founder, Frank Morano, on Yelp over the past three years. Rosenthal also resurfaced a now-deleted 2016 Facebook post from Morano’s son and restaurant co-owner Dominic Morano’s account mocking Black Lives Matter protesters being hit by cars, and has posted photos of the restaurant’s exterior from previous years featuring a sticker supporting the pro-police Blue Lives Matter movement.
Frank and Dominic Morano will remain owners of the establishment, according to a restaurant spokesperson, but will have no interactions with customers and won’t be involved in managing the business, including the brand’s recently-opened shop in Los Angeles. Tony Sosa, the current manager of the NYC store, will be overseeing Prince Street’s operations until further notice.
In response to Rosenthal’s findings — which he began publishing on his Instagram account on December 24 — Prince Street’s Yelp page has since been flooded with negative reviews, and others have called out the institution on social media. Several days after Rosenthal published his findings, Prince Street Pizza finally issued a public apology on its Instagram stories on January 7, writing in part that, “our actions in the past in addressing negative customer concerns have fallen short and were extremely inappropriate. Racism and discrimination have no place at Prince Street Pizza shops or anywhere else.”
Instagram users immediately dismissed the response as a public relations move, with many leaving comments on the pizzeria’s Instagram account calling out the establishment for deleting comments accusing the spot of racism. “You are not regretful because the owners are not speaking here, some paid lackey is,” one commenter wrote on one of the posts. The Prince Street Instagram account has since vowed not to delete any more comments pertaining to these accusations. A response from the owners came on January 8.
“There is nothing ok about what I said on Yelp,” said Frank Morano, in a statement. “Making light of violence is indefensible,” Dominic Morano added in the same statement.
The controversy stems from Yelp comments that Rosenthal found — which have since been deleted by Prince Street Pizza — and were in response to customers leaving negative reviews on the pizzeria’s Yelp page detailing how they were allegedly discriminated against at the establishment’s original location at 27 Prince Street A, between Mott and Elizabeth streets.
On his Instagram account, and later on his website, Rosenthal resurfaced four separate incidents, with the earliest dating back to September 2017. In that first incident, Twitter user TheLife shared screenshots of all his private interactions with the pizzeria following a review he left on Yelp. The pizzeria’s responses — which came from Frank Morano at the time — address the customer as a “mongrel,” “yellow dog,” and “mutt,” at various points, all racial slurs historically used against Asian people.
When the customer calls out the racism, Morano doubles down on the comments, writing, “I called you a mutt, which means coward. I called you a yellow dog which means coward!! And I called you a mongrel which is what you are!!!”
While announcing his decision to step down on January 8, Morano partly defended his response to this particular incident, saying in his statement that he allegedly had restaurant security kick this customer out for “intoxicated and violent behavior toward other customers and employees.” Morano also alleges that the customer referred to his Italian heritage in “degrading terms.” The customer did not return Eater’s request for comment.
“I should have never responded,” says Frank Morano, in a statement. “I should have taken the high road and let it be. I was so incredibly offended because I love all of our customers and want to protect them and I was shocked at what I was reading. However, the fact of the matter is there is no excuse for what I said and how I responded.”
In two separate incidents in August and December 2019, two Black women posted negative reviews about the pizzeria detailing how the pizzeria’s staff members were rude to them and harassed them. Yelp user J.A. wrote in August 2019 that “the lady at the register here is very rude and racist.” In a private message shared by J.A., Frank Morano calls her “a piece of shit,” before adding “go fuck yourself you disgusting race card playing c-nt.”
In December 2019, Melissa L. wrote on Yelp, “I had barely taken two bites out of my pizza before one of their staff started harassing me and trying to get me to leave — despite several other customers having been standing around eating for longer than I had.” She went on to add, “Now I get why literally no Black people go here.”
In response, Frank Morano wrote, “I got all types of race religion and sexual orientation that comes into my store. Now go shit in a hat you racist clown.”
Just last October, Yelp user Fernando L. — who is Asian — wrote about an experience at the pizzeria in which he was allegedly interrupted by a white man who was given a free bottle of water by the cashier. When he asked for the same, the cashier reportedly declined his request. Frank Morano once again dismissed the claims in a response and wrote, “you can go shit in your hat.” All the customers mentioned above did not immediately return Eater’s requests for comment.
Several other negative reviews highlighted by Rosenthal in his Instagram stories on the Prince Street Pizza saga, while not concerning issues of racism, were still met with by derision by Frank Morano, and those responses often included threats of violence against customers. “I guarantee you this old ass will break your fucking jaw in one punch you communist scumbag,” Frank Morano said in one particular response to a customer.
In his January 8 statement, Frank Morano acknowledged his past behavior, saying, “I take full responsibility and wholeheartedly apologize to our customers, especially our Asian community. All of our customers are family to us, and you deserve so much better.”
In addition to the Yelp comments, Rosenthal also found a video [Warning: the contents of this video are graphic] reshared by Dominic Morano in 2016 on his now-deactivated Facebook account. The video, titled “Why do BLM and other protestors cross the road? to get run over by angry drivers,” features graphic images of Black Lives Matter activists being hit by vehicles during protests. The video has since been taken down by the original uploader.
Dominic Morano doubled down on this post after Rosenthal’s findings were posted on Instagram. Instagram user @Matthewfamularo.svg shared a response from Dominic Morano — which came from Prince Street Pizza’s Instagram account and was in response @Matthewfamularo.svg sharing Rosenthal’s Instagram story — continuing to make light of the video. “You found it offensive? I found it funny,” part of the meme shared by Dominic Morano reads. “That’s why I’m happier than you.”
In the January 8 statement, Dominic Morano acknowledged his comments, saying, “the horror the world has witnessed in unwarranted and unjust deaths of black men and women killed in recent years has been heartbreaking. And me making light of what is happening was and is wrong.”
As part of his investigation, Rosenthal also uncovered several exterior photos of Prince Street Pizza over the past few years that show a Blue Lives Matter sticker in the front, an American flag with a thin blue line running through the center. Rosenthal also uncovered another image, taken in 2015, showing a black poster with a blue line through the middle.
A spokesperson for the pizzeria, Valerie Vega, initially told Eater that some of these stickers had not been posted by the restaurant’s employees, but in Prince Street’s January 8 statement the restaurant acknowledged placing a Blue Lives Matter sticker “on or about 2016,” saying the restaurant did so thinking it showed support for first responders, but removed it subsequently when it learned of the sticker’s “double meaning.”
Blue Lives Matter emerged roughly in 2014 in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, started earlier that year, condemning police brutality against Black people. Civil rights groups have denounced the Blue Lives Matter movement for equating criticism of police officers with racial discrimination, particularly because attacks on police officers are met with harsher punitive action than attacks against civilians, especially victims of police violence.
Vega said the NYPD and FDNY stickers that remained on the door in the years after that were meant to show support for first responders but not for the Blue Lives Matter movement. She said many employees have family members who work as first responders, and the restaurant’s January 8 statement says, “the Morano family deeply respects and honors all first responders.”
The statement goes on to add that, “Prince Street Pizza believes that systemic racism, police brutality, White supremacy, and discrimination must end. We support efforts to reform policy that ensures safe and equal existence for all Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC).”
Rosenthal’s investigation also raised concerns about how closely the pizzeria is following COVID-19 safety guidelines. At least two separate images shared by the food blogger on his Instagram stories show Prince Street Pizza employees either without masks on or wearing them incorrectly. Vega said the safety of Prince Street’s customers and employees was its top priority, and said the restaurant was operating in strict compliance with COVID-19 protocols determined by the state and the Centers for Disease Control. She added that “any concerns about violations of our health and safety standards are immediately addressed and corrected.”
Rosenthal’s investigation has added Prince Street Pizza — one of NYC’s most beloved pizzerias — to another major reckoning experienced by the restaurant industry in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests from last summer. Several more restaurant workers, chefs, and other industry professionals shared stories of racism, sexism, and toxic workplaces. Many restaurants and their owners have been taken to task for publicly preaching equality and inclusion while privately engaging in allegedly discriminatory behavior. In NYC, for instance, the celeb-endorsed green tea chain Cha Cha Matcha was on blast in the summer of 2020 for the allegedly toxic workplace behavior fostered by its co-founders.
Still, places like Prince Street Pizza continue to be popular among loyal customers. Some Instagram commenters responded negatively to Rosenthal’s investigation, writing that he was spreading lies and should “get a real job.” An overwhelming majority, though, have called out the pizzeria online and have since denounced it as racist in comments left on Instagram posts on its account. Yelp has since disabled comments on the restaurant’s page, citing an influx of posts following Rosenthal’s Instagram exposé.
Prince Street Pizza was founded in 2012 and took over from the iconic Ray’s Pizza, which shuttered following a 52-year run the previous year. At the time of Prince Street’s opening, Frank Morano vowed to uphold Ray’s legacy, and has since quickly developed a following for its spicy square slice, which features an airy and crispy crust. The pizzeria is credited with popularizing the curly pepperoni called “roni cups” that have taken over the pizza market in the city. The restaurant’s Sicilian-style pizzas have been lauded by critics and customers alike since, and last year the pizzeria capitalized on its popularity to open a new location in West Hollywood, in Los Angeles.
Still, much like many other top establishments that have faced a reckoning during the pandemic, Prince Street’s popularity hasn’t left it immune to criticism. “We hope our customers will forgive us and allow us the opportunity to serve them as we are grateful for the opportunity to do better,” said Vega, as part of a prepared statement by Prince Street. “Our customers deserve better.”
Vega said that a majority of the pizzeria’s staffers are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), and that the pizzeria has recently hired dedicated customer service personnel to better address customers’ concerns on social media, via texting, and on the phone. “We know that words are simply not enough,” says Vega in a statement. “Some of these improvements are still in their very early stages. We do want to foster an environment that our staff and customers feel comfortable in.”
Read Prince Street Pizza original January 7 statement below:
And the statement issued on January 8 including comments by Frank and Dominic Morano: