Last Sunday, Korner Pizza celebrated fifty years of serving up delicious pizza and warm welcomes to the residents of Kensington.
The neighborhood has “been good to me,” owner Anthony Imburgia said in an interview.
The Imburgia family has been running Korner Pizza at the same location on Church Avenue and East 3rd Street since the business got started in 1966. Imburgia’s father, Francesco, opened the restaurant after the family emigrated to Brooklyn from Campofelice di Roccella, which lies on the northern coast of Sicily.
The building that houses Korner Pizza was constructed on the site of an old house, which faced onto East Third Street, with a backyard along Church Avenue.
Francesco passed away only ten years ago, his son said. Even after retiring, “he came in every day,” Imburgia said of his father.
Imburgia, who was only 14 when he arrived in the U.S. on the SS Cristoforo Colombo in 1967, worked alongside his parents and brother at Korner Pizza while a high school student.
He never left, choosing not to go to college. “Where else can you get a job and talk to people every day? For me, it was fun,” Imburgia said.
And decades after the family’s arrival in the U.S., you can still hear him chatting in Sicilian with his wife, Natalie, and three daughters. Imburgia vividly remembers what it was like to come from a town in Sicily to New York City as a teenager. He had never seen such big cars or wide streets before, he said.
The Kensington of the mid-1960s that his family came to was not totally dissimilar from the Kensington of today, Imburgia observed. It was a “mixed” neighborhood, with “a little bit of this, a little bit of that…Jewish-Americans, a few Italians, and a lot of Irish.”
The neighborhood suffered — as much of New York City did — from drug-related crime in the late 60s and 1970s. Drugs were a “big problem” until the 1980s, Imburgia noted. Other than that, Kensington, he said, has been “beautiful.”
For fifty years, Korner Pizza has remained open seven days a week, never closing, except for the major Catholic and national holidays, and an August break, Imburgia said. It’s important that the business be open, he stated, “people depend on me.”
The only day Imburgia was unable to open Korner Pizza was during the Christmas blizzard of 2010, “when Mayor Bloomberg went on vacation,” and the city was paralyzed by snow.
Korner Pizza was forced to close early during the 1977 Blackout; but remained open late during the 2003 Blackout, making pizza by candlelight. “People came from everywhere. We did whatever we could,” Imburgia recollected.
Imburgia reminisced about the businesses he has seen come and go from Church Avenue over a five decade span — a Jewish deli, Chinese laundry, the Beverley Theatre, a “five and ten cent store” where the Rite Aid is now, and even an A & P grocery store.
Korner Pizza is now the oldest business on Kensington’s four-block commercial strip, he said.
Will his children carry on the business? “It’s up to them,” Imburgia answered, referring to his three daughters and sons-in-law. “I would love to keep it going for another fifty years.”
With all the wonderful memories and good times that his family and neighbors have shared at Korner Pizza, there has been a real sacrifice in running the business, Imburgia said. He and his wife worked seven days a week and literally raised their children at Korner Pizza while they kept the pizzeria going.
One of Imburgia’s daughters jokingly reminded her father how she and her sisters “slept on flour sacks” when they were little.
“This is not a walk in the park…putting the business ahead of everything. [You’re] sacrificing yourself for your family,” he observed.
But, Imburgia concluded, reflecting on fifty years in Kensington, “I don’t regret anything. I am what I am today because of this business. Whatever I have is thanks to this business. We worked very hard.”