A Conversation at and with Pietro Nolita
London may have Sketch, but New York has its own all-pink restaurant: Pietro Nolita. I first went to this Italian spot, in the Nolita neighborhood in Manhattan, in September of 2018. I spent my 24th birthday at their brunch, celebrating another revolution around the sun with my best friends, yummy pasta, and zesty cocktails basked in a rosy glow. While we waited for a table to open up and took photos outside for my mostly-pink instagram feed, Pietro, the creator and owner of Pietro Nolita, kept us company, chatting with us about life, ours and his, and his inspiration. He saved us the best table, took a shot with my party, gifted us “Pink As Fuck” stickers, and ensured my 24th birthday was nothing short of delightful.
A year later I brought along temporary New York transplant, and our frequent photographer, Allison Barr to photograph Pietro and his namesake for this interview. Before getting started the two of us, Pietro and I, sat outside on his pink bench and recapped our last meeting that resulted in one of my favorite New York memories. Then Pietro told me, in his enchanting Italian accent, about the founding of Pietro Nolita three years ago, his “Pink as Fuck” concept, and where he’s going from here.
Sarah Sickles for Pink Things: It’s so good to see you again. We talked a lot last time, but can you tell me about yourself? About how you ended up here and how you started this restaurant?
Pietro of Pietro Nolita: l’m from Milano. I was born and raised there, but I thought that Italy was too tight for me. I wanted to explore the world, so I went to the farthest possible place, which was California [laughter].
So, I went to college in Santa Barbara in 2000 and then I moved to New York in 2003. I interned at Dolce & Gabbana for a year and then I started working at this company where we rented out high-end clothes for celebrities, movies, commercials, stylists. After that I invested in this Jamacian restaurant called Miss Lily’s where I learned what the restaurant business was all about. I worked under Serge Becker, who’s a restaurateur in New York, and he showed me the way. He found me this spot and I decided to do a “Pink as Fuck” restaurant that reminded me of my childhood. We opened in October of 2016.
Pink Things: So why Nolita as a location?
Pietro: Nolita reminds me a little bit of Europe because it’s the only place in New York, and SoHo, that isn’t high rises. It’s very charming and it’s the closest thing to Europe I can see in New York.
PT: That’s good to know. Nolita is probably my favorite Manhattan neighborhood, I think. Because it’s cozy.
P: Yeah, it’s cozy. It’s neighborhood-y. I know everybody here, so it’s like home. People help each other out. I know everybody in the restaurant field, so if someone has a broken ice machine, we’ll help each other out. You know?
PT: That’s so sweet. So now here’s the pink question: Why paint it pink?
P: So pink comes from my childhood memories. I lived in a house that came from the Memphis Group — an architectural movement that was born in Milan in 1980. I lived in a house that was super colorful and full of bright colors, not just pink. It was very charming. It was even in Vogue Casa.
PT: Oh my gosh!
P: Yes, in 1978. And then my mom had a house in the Italian Riviera. The building where we had an apartment was all pink. So we would go home and say, “We’re going home to the pink house.” The pastel colors of the Italian Riviera reminded me of my childhood so I wanted to, in the concrete jungle, open up something bright, something pleasant. Even the logo has a smiley face and the sun. Just thinking about it, the color pink reminds me of my childhood
PT: So why name it after yourself?
P: That’s a great question. I wanted to name it for my mom. I use her recipes. I had two names before choosing: one was Patritzia, which was my mom’s name, but it was very hard to pronounce for the American customer, so I went with my own because it’s a very strong name. It means rock. And putting it with pink is kind of counter —
PT: A juxtaposition.
P: Exactly. It was a strong name with a pink color — soft. It’s like “Pink As Fuck.” Pink is a soft color, a soft name. It means beauty, it means comfort, it means grace. You put the word “fuck” in there and it becomes — yeah. That’s why I wanted to do it like that.
PT: Great. So my first time here was a little more than a year ago for my 24th birthday. I brought two friends here and we were waiting outside on this pink bench. You were here and you talked with us while we were taking a bunch of photos. My question here is: Was this always your intent? To make it a brilliant marketing scheme of everyone wanting to take their picture here to bring people here?
P: Absolutely not. I had my own idea and I was scared shitless. I just wanted to go with my gut, so I brought my childhood memories to a place here. That is Pietro Nolita. I didn’t even have an instagram at the beginning, not even my personal. You know, I’m 40 years old. It was not my intention! I just wanted to do something against the sadness of Little Italy with their wheel of cheese and the salami hanging with their checkered tablecloths — that’s not what Italy is all about. Every time a restaurant in the United States has that stereotype it really saddens me. That’s not what Italy is.
A lot of people have not had the chance to go to Italy, but if you go to Italy, we are very modern; we are evolving. That’s why we have to bring back this architectural design involved. Italy is strong in architecture; we have history. I wanted to do something that was modern, but bringing back the past.
I also wanted to do something that would stand out as an Italian restaurant and bring what the flavor is all about. With my mom’s pastas we don’t use butter, we don’t use cream, we keep it very light, very clean, portions small. It’s how I was raised. Some people come here and are like, “I didn’t like your pasta.” “Okay, yes, it’s not for everybody.” I tell them, “If you don’t like it you can go to Little Italy or you can go to Olive Garden. They give you free breadsticks too.”
PT: [Laughing] So this is — you chatted with us while we waited, which is something that I really enjoyed.
P: Yes, of course. I’m the owner of this place. I’m all alone. To me, every customer that comes, first of all, is a blessing; second of all, I want them to experience what I created in the most pleasant way. I know the restaurant is very small; it’s only eight tables. It’s hard to please everybody, but when I’m here I want to understand who my customer is. I want to understand why they came to this restaurant and learn about it.
PT: That’s a great lead in to my next question which is: What should someone order when they come here?
P: Well, we do fresh pastas; pasta is our forte. So order the pasta of the day or the carbonara, which we usually only do for brunch because it’s my mom’s recipe and not that easy to make. So, fresh pasta and a cocktail! Everyday we squeeze fresh juices. We even put chunks of lavender in with the vodka, soaked in vodka, to make it as original as possible. No cheating up in my restaurant. My moms recipes. Some great cocktails. To me, it’s perfection.
PT: What’s your favorite dish?
P: My favorite dish is the carbonara and the special of the day, which changes all the time. Last night we had pork sausage with broccoli rabe. Whew! That was amazing! And my favorite cocktail is the Nolita Lita which is our most popular cocktail. It’s mezcal and tequila with hibiscus syrup that we cook here. The carbonara is very light so you can eat it and then walk around on a beautiful day in New York without feeling like you need to take a nap.
PT: I wanted to ask you about the “Pink As Fuck” stickers and t-shirts.
P: Yes! So when I opened the restaurant I wanted to make a statement out of it. At the time I was just saying, “I’m going to open a pink restaurant. It’s going to be pink as fuck.” Then I made some t-shirts for fun to promote it. I was blessed enough that a couple friends that work in fashion loved it and they wore it out. People took pictures and it became a thing. I was so surprised when a couple of grandmas walked into the restaurant with a picture of the t-shirt, from New Zealand, and said, “My daughter really wanted this t-shirt, do you sell it here?” Like, yes! It’s a fun thing. It’s like putting pink and fuck together, which are complete opposites.
PT: Does it hold any sort of deeper meaning to you? Or was it just fun? Like it was great, and you liked it, so you put it out into the world?
P: I think it was a combination of my childhood memories as the opening of Pietro Nolita, and the “Pink as Fuck” as me now; what I represent, you know? Something different. Bringing the culture of Italian culinary and Italian design back into 2019.
PT: Okay, I want to ask you: What do you think of the color pink?
P: First of all, pink, to me, exudes tranquility and serenity and grace. We live in a concrete jungle where everybody’s active, so it makes me feel calm. I mean, it [Pietro Nolita] looks like a little jewel box. You can’t go in and say, “Oh fuck, this place is shit.” Maybe some people don’t like pink but —
PT: They’re crazy.
PT: Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like us to know about?
P: Yes, actually! Next door.
PT: This! Under construction!
P: Yes. Which will take another year from now. The next project will be pizza. It’s going to be pizza with the same concept, but a little bit stronger. This [Pietro Nolita] is sweet, but it’s going to be stronger. There’s going to be a twist.
PT: So to wrap it up, is there anything you want to share?
P: I just want to say that I’m blessed for these almost three years we’ve been open. I’m just blessed with my team and the luck and the joy that I hopefully bring to people. I’m just blessed and I thank the Lord for it.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Photos by Allison Barr.
174 Elizabeth Street, New York, NY
Sarah Sickles is the founder and editor of Pink Things.