The first thing one notices when speaking with Scott Wiener is that he doesn’t just love pizza, he lives it.
As we spoke, the New Jersey native was headed toward a pizzeria in California run entirely by robots. The way he spoke about it, a combination of frenetic energy and childlike glee, gives an idea of the passion this man has for pizza. From touring New York City with his friends to try out different pizza places all the way to claiming a Guinness World Record for number of pizza boxes collected (he currently has over 1,200), Wiener’s journey has been an organic one, starting out as a wild-eyed dive into the world of New York City Pizza. Now he runs Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City among a myriad of other roles. We had a chance to chat with the pizza virtuoso about his personal journey, his pizza tour company and his favorite pizza boxes.
Why pizza? What attracted you to it and how did you get started?
Besides having a coupe of jobs in kitchens at casual chain restaurants i was really just a consumer. I love pizza and I’ve always loved pizza but I started to get more into it as I realized there was more variation that I thought from growing up in suburban New Jersey.
How did it evolve from loving to eat pizza to something more?
When I went to college people would say try this style of pizza or that style. All these different terms kept coming up and I wanted to know the difference. So as I visited different pizzerias I would ask questions, and I started reading trade magazines. So when I had the vocabulary down and I asked questions I would get real answers because I spoke the language.
This evolved into a very informal pizza crawling that I would do with my friends. We would hit up four or five pizzerias in a day and that would be fun. That grew into renting buses and eventually selling tickets. Now the business has been running for eight years.
What else do you do besides the tours?
Now I write for magazines and websites and do consulting. All kinds of weird pizza stuff. Judging competitions, you name it. I hold a Guinness World Record for a collection of pizza boxes.
Could you tell our readers more about that? How did that come about?
I think there’s a little part of every kids brain that dreams of being in the Guinness Book of World Records. But when I started collecting, it was really organic. I saw one that said limited edition on the side of the box. I thought “I should probably save it”. Of course, I don’t think anybody else in the world saved it but I did.
That turned into collecting and it just took off from there. I got the world record when I had 600 and now I have double that.
Is there anyone else trying to match your collection?
No, but I would love it if someone else did. Not just because I want competition but there is just nobody else to talk to about pizza boxes, it’s a very small world.
You also wrote a book on the art of pizza boxes, Viva la Pizza!. Did that come before or after the record?
The book was happening before the record. The book was published in November of 2013 and I got the world record two weeks later.
What’s your favorite box in your collection?
Theres one that has an unlicensed image of Bart and Homer Simpson. Totally unlicensed and definitely illegal.
Do you have a favorite pizza region to study or go to?
Not really. I appreciate pizza for what it is. I think any pizza with balance and flavorful crust is great. You can tell if it is a pizza of intention where there is some thought behind it.
Why is pizza important to the history of New York City?
New York has always been a very fast paced city with a pedestrian culture and a culture of eating on the go. Pizza by the slice benefited from that ever since it came about after the second world war. It meshed perfectly with the speed and intensity of New York and the Italian immigration pattern into the city.
You own Scott’s Pizza Tours. What can people expect from a tour that they can’t get from walking around on their own?
Eating pizza is pretty much the only similarity between eating on your own and doing the tour. We get a much deeper context where the tour guide gives a more historical and cultural background. We do behind the scenes kitchen tours and explain the ovens and the production.
Who comes on the tours? Is it mostly locals or tourists?
It is about forty percent ti-state area tourists. Another forty percent that are domestic tourists, they are on vacation and want something fun to do. The last twenty percent is split between international tourists and industry professionals. We do private tours and many of those are with industry professionals and are more like a mini consultation
What tour would you recommend to a pizza beginner?
The best one to start off with is the bus tour which is only on Sundays. It’s a great one because it visits four pizzerias and we out of Manhattan.
For walking tours we do a cross town pizza walk that is great because it gives you a foundation on the history of American pizza.
How do the tours work?
Well we offer six different tours and the bus tour fits thirty-two people and the walking tours max out at sixteen. There’s a team of five of us and we are all just pizza nuts. And the tours are not set, the tour guide gets to know the tour group and takes them to different places depending on who they are.
Can you specialize tours to people with dietary needs or food restrictions?
The answer used to be no, sorry, I can’t help you. Now we have been able to do vegan pizza tours and gluten-free pizza tours that are really fun.
You do some work as a consultant. Who are you doing that for and what does it entail?
I consult with lots of small pizza shops and also I write magazine columns and consult on The Pizza Show on Munchies ( a Vice Media website that produces web shows). I work with the producer and give her leads on farmers, flour millers, people like that. I also help them make sure its accurate if the go into science or history.
Do you have any plans to open your own pizzeria?
I have no plans to open a pizzeria. My part of the pizza world exists to celebrate them. I’m interested in highlighting what people in the business are doing it. It’ sort of like being a film critic and not wanting to make films.
Thanks for speaking with us and giving us a glimpse into your world!