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Eatery serves up thin-crust pizza for 26 years

There are two things customers of Sal’s Little Neck Pizzeria on Northern Boulevard can always count on: fresh, hot pizza and an interesting conversation.

“New Yorkers are always in a rush,” owner Sal Leo said in a recent interview, just before he put a fresh pizza pie in the oven of his Little Neck eatery. “I always try to tell some of these people to take it easy.”

Taking it easy is one thing Leo has probably never done. The hardworking businessman, who has run his small pizzeria out of the same shop for 26 years, has a relaxed attitude but a solid business philosophy.

“There’s nothing mysterious to it,” Leo said. “Any kind of small business — you put your time in. It’s commitment and a quality product.”

Leo has been serving that quality product, which he describes as a traditional, thin-crust “New York” style pizza, since opening in 1975 at 254-19 Northern Blvd.

And the longtime merchant, who emigrated from Italy when he was 10, grew up in Brooklyn and New Jersey and got his undergraduate degree from Baruch College after nine years of night school, has as much to say about pizza as he does society.

The menu at Sal’s is full of traditional Italian fare such as calzones, lasagna, garlic bread, heros and salads, but Leo said customers should not expect to see food sitting around in display cases.

“I keep my pizza traditional,” he said. “It’s a matter of quality. Everybody thinks they can get into the pizza business.”

Some pizza shops use trendy or unusual foods to lure customers, but not Leo.

“If anybody wants anything different, I make it fresh for them,” Leo said. “If it sits around. it gets old and dries out.”

At Sal’s Little Neck Pizzeria, Leo said, everything is made fresh, including the tomato sauce and meatballs.

Just as important as the product, Leo said, is a store owner’s relationship with the customers.

“It becomes a family thing after a while,” he said. “They come in, you talk about the stock market.”

A 21-year resident of Little Neck, Leo said he makes it a point to hire his employees from the neighborhood.

“Some of these kids have grown up here,” he said. “I tell them all the time, if you have a commitment to something, you’ll do it.”

Leo developed his flair for the business by working with his cousins, who have operated Corato’s Pizza in Ridgewood for more than 40 years. After graduating from high school, Leo worked in the electronics industry for more than a decade before giving in to family tradition and opening his own pizzeria.

“I’m an independent person,” he said. “It’s easier to be your own boss. It was practical for me to go into the pizza business because I knew something about it.”

Little Neck, he said, has been good to him throughout the years.

“The ’80s were the best years here,” he said. “The families were bigger and the easiest thing for them to eat was pizza. Through the years the demographics have changed ... you don’t get the same volume you used to.”

“There’s always going to be changes,” he said. “It’s a good neighborhood, an excellent place to bring up your kids.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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