Benny Fierro’s is crushing South Side’s late-night pizza scene
January 29, 2016
Every morning, Ryan Smith wakes and bakes. It’s not the lifestyle he’d ever envisioned for himself, but it’s one that he’s become particularly fond of.
Not unlike many of the 20-somethings working in Pittsburgh’s South Side, Smith’s days begin and end on bar-dense East Carson Street. There, he owns and manages Benny Fierro’s: the neighborhood’s newest (and most talked-about) pizza joint.
Part of a Virginia-based franchise known for serving up comically massive pies (14 inches per slice), Fierro’s December 2015 opening marked Benny’s 12th store — its first in Pennsylvania. Brand new to business ownership, Smith turned to the company after losing his first post-college job to a struggling economy. After two years of managing Benny’s Radford, Va. and Virginia Tech locations, the New Jersey native headed north. “I moved to Pittsburgh specifically [to open Benny Fierro’s] when I realized that this is really what I want to do,” he says. Inspired by “a void in the South Side pizza scene,” Smith started his venture, paying homage to the New York-style slices he grew up eating in Hoboken.
On the day of our meeting, the store has barely been open for two weeks. Still, between its extended weekend hours (open until 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday), plentiful seating, and prime locale in one of the city’s youngest, most energetic neighborhoods, it’s been packing in “some pretty steady late-night crowds.”
“We’re trying to be that ‘after-the-bar’ hangout,” Smith adds. As far as we can tell, his strategy is working. In two minutes and 30 seconds by my watch, Smith neatly packs a 28-inch pie with sauce and cheese, and it’s off to the oven. Ten minutes later, lunch is served: thin ‘n’ crispy, as promised. We’ve just missed the bulk of the mid-afternoon rush, but it’s Thursday; and the Benny’s staff is already preparing for a long night ahead.
Moving forward, Smith says he plans to grow Fierro’s customer base by keeping his recipe as simple as possible. With only five toppings to choose from at any time (three regulars and two monthly specials), the restaurant “can focus on doing one thing really well.” Translation: fresh, fast pizza, all of the time. “We want people to come in, order a slice, and get a good meal for less than five dollars,” says Smith.
Hesitant about forking over a Lincoln for one piece of pizza? Rest assured: One slice is roughly the length of your forearm. You will not leave this place hungry.