Pizza Garden beloved by Flushing families turns 50

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The ovens at Pizza Garden in north Flushing were working overtime Sunday night, as the shop celebrated its 50th year serving the neighborhood.

The pizza joint has been an institution for half a century because of its high-quality food and welcoming family atmosphere, longtime customers and employees said at the pizza joint’s birthday celebration Sunday night.

On Dec. 1, 1960, Phil Ejnes and Tony Scarselli opened the shop which features a classic sign, glass display cases filled with fresh pizza and pasta dishes, low tables and stone features, at 171-01 Northern Blvd., in hopes of providing top-notch food and service to their neighbors.

The original recipes are still used to make the pastas, calzones and signature Sicilian pies at the old-fashioned store, which features a large, neon “Since 1960” sign on its back wall.

In 1986, Scarselli retired, and Ejnes’s son Richard bought out his half of the store. Six years ago, Phil Ejnes stepped down, and the store is currently owned fully by Richard Ejnes, who met his wife Carolyn there.

What does he think made the place such a lasting success?

“It’s consistency. It’s becoming friendly with customers on a first-name basis, their kids. It’s become a thing for families to get pizzas here on Fridays,” Richard Ejnes said at the party. “At least once or twice a month a face who hasn’t been in here in forever will come in as their first stop when they come back into Flushing. A guy came to visit his mother and he had his family in the car and the dog in the backseat, and he ordered 15 pies with garlic to take back to South Dakota.”

Elaine and Joe Caruso of Flushing have been eating at Pizza Garden for 25 years. Self-described “pizza connoisseu­rs,” they say they have tried many other pizzas but none compares to their favorite: a regular round, well-done Pizza Garden pie with a slice of Sicilian as an appetizer.

“The pizza is the best. This is the Pizza Garden family. For us it’s a Friday night tradition to come in and get a pie and sit at our table in the corner,” Elaine Caruso said. “Terrific pizza, the owners, the people who work here, it’s a great combination.”

The restaurant was packed Sunday night with longtime regulars and all the people who have kept it going through the years. They ate their beloved pizza and Italian specialties, popped champagne, sliced a pizza-shaped birthday cake and listened to classic rock played by local band The New Duke and Fred.

Joe Distl, 64, and Warren Distl, 62, have delivered pizza for Pizza Garden for more than 40 years each. Joe Distl’s daughter, Elaine, has been a waitress there for 18 years. They are a Pizza Garden family, and they say they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s lots of fun. Good place to work, good fun. It’s like family,” Joe Distl said. “We laugh forever here, sometimes so long our sides hurt. You can’t beat Pizza Garden pizza. I’ve tried slices all over, and you can’t beat it.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 6:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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