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No Slice Left Behind: Eco Regs Push NY Pizzerias to the Brink

By Jake Beardslee · July 5, 2023

In brief…

  • New York's small pizza businesses face potential financial pain as they grapple with stringent emission regulations.
  • Shops that use old-style wood-and-coal-burning ovens are expected to install pricy $20,000 air filters.
  • NY Mayor compares pizza-oven smoke to Canadian red fog that recently hit Gotham.
A pizza restaurant in Manhattan, New York City. "New York City, Manhattan, little Italy, 369 Broome St. / Mott St. : Sal's Pizza"  Vincent Desjardins/CC BY 2.0

Forget about wind farms and electric vehicles. The latest frontier in the war against climate change is New York City’s coal-and-wood-fired pizza ovens. This beloved slice of the city’s culinary heritage now finds itself in the midst of fiery battle over climate change. 

Mayor Eric Adams and his army of inspectors appear ready to clamp down with new regulations targeting small pizzerias in New York City. The new regimen would force pizza shops that use old-fashioned wood-and-coal-burning ovens to install $20,000 air filters in their shops. That’s a lot of dough for the roughly 100 pizzerias that prepare their pies according to the the strictest traditions of purity. 

Pizza entrepreneur Paulie Gee, owner of Brooklyn’s wood-burning Paulie Gee’s Pizzeria, acknowledged the adverse effects of smoke emissions on neighboring residents, saying, “The smoke that was coming out…was disturbing my neighbors. And I didn’t want to do that.” At the same time, he said, many small businesses, including his own, have been struggling since the pandemic and would find it tough to cover the added costs and regulatory oversight.

On the issue of pizza pollution, Adams recently said, ”I think nothing is more clearer to all of us as what this environment is going through after two weeks ago with the fire in Canada,” adding “That smoke is the type of smoke that we’re talking about. So let’s see if we can find a way to get the resolutions we’re looking for.” 

Recoiling at the Mayor’s comparison between the smoke from 100 pizza ovens to the thick Martian-like smog that blanketed New York as a result of Canadian forrest fires, Gee asked, “If that was the case with these 100 ovens, why can we look across and see a beautiful, beautiful skyline?” 

As New York City aims to strike a rational balance between environmental safeguards and the pursuit of gastronomic pleasure, the fate of these cherished pizzerias hangs in the balance. Pizza lovers can only hope that Mayor Adams will do the right thing.