On what looks like each nook in New York Metropolis, there’s a pizzeria claiming to be one of the best.
Many share related traits — a transparent glass shelf displaying the varied pizzas obtainable, greens or meat, typically pineapple or shrimp, or plain outdated crimson sauce and cheese. It’s the right meal for any time of day, greasy to various levels, some with cheese sliding off the crust. And of course there are one of the best New York pies — recognized for thinness and crispness, to be folded however to not flop. Typically on the partitions are photographs of celebrities, typically with their arms wrapped across the house owners. This tradition is ingrained in the town’s life, unmistakably New York. In Lviv, one enterprise has created an almost good duplicate, bringing the Massive Apple to Ukraine.
I met Stepan Ben Sheptyskyy, proprietor of New York Road Pizza in Lviv, in mid-November. It was snowing, and after I walked into his restaurant I used to be carrying 4 layers of long-sleeved shirts beneath my ski jacket. I headed to a desk close to the doorway to shed some of the burden of the clothes. “Wow,” I heard a buyer say behind me, “Are you warm?” “No,” I replied.
At first look, the pizzeria may not appear like a New York duplicate. Moderately than a soda dispenser, there’s an espresso machine behind a bar, and you’ll’t order by the slice. However the partitions are lined with rigorously chosen photographs recalling NYC: pictures of the Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges, replicas of Basquiat work, and a menu hanging from the ceiling studying “Pizza with prosciutto.” Trying round, although, I observed one factor lacking. “Where’s Sinatra!” I mentioned. Sheptyskyy smiled and pointed to the wall behind me, the place there hung one giant framed poster of Ol’ Blue Eyes himself. (Close by was an image of Marilyn Monroe, who additionally frolicked in New York.)
Sheptyskyy got here up with the concept of bringing New York to Ukraine after the 9 years he spent in NYC, in the ’90s and early 2000s. On the time, he was a younger musician from Lviv hoping to make it in New York, and he discovered himself in the town’s underground Ukrainian punk scene. He spent his days working in eating places and evenings performing in gigs along with his band, Vidlunnya, which loosely interprets as “an echo.” Sheptyskyy recalled that he would “play music in restaurants, Brooklyn, all kinds of different music, many Russian, Ukrainian, Polish restaurants, festivals, upstate New York, Chicago, Washington.”
“New York is a beautiful city, very beautiful,” he added with a smile, noting that he knew of the Voice, although he admitted he by no means learn the paper when he lived in the town. There was one factor that was ever-present, nevertheless: “I have a lot of friends in New York, Italian usually. We go to pizza, pizza, pizza, always pizza.” (One of these Italian mates claims to be a nephew of Sinatra, in keeping with Sheptyskyy.)
After returning to Ukraine, in 2000, Sheptyskyy and a few companions began opening the New York Road Pizza chain. The primary location was just some streets away from the place we spoke. At that interview, a pizza was introduced out, made particularly for me with no cheese, as I’m vegan. The skinny crust was Roman-style; there was a crunch, completely different from an excessive amount of of New York’s extra run-of-the-mill pizza, which is usually soggy. Sheptyskyy’s sister lives in Italy, which influenced some features of the pizza’s elements and manufacturing. The sauce was candy, resembling what may be discovered at Anna Maria’s pizzeria in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. However the Lviv pizza had an virtually overwhelming quantity of greens, mushrooms, basil, and tomatoes. “New York City likes plain pizzas. Ukrainians like a lot [toppings],” Sheptyskyy famous.
The get together ended in the early morning hours, and Sheptyskyy posted movies on Fb of his mates singing and ingesting. He awoke a couple of hours later to quite a few messages — “Take these videos down,” all of them mentioned. “We are at war.”
New York Road Pizza was a staple all through Ukraine, from Lviv to Kharkiv and Mariupol, for practically twenty years. Mother and father held their kids’s birthday events there, an important day — going to New York Metropolis with out leaving Ukraine. However there have been critical issues in latest years. “Covid killed the business. Now it’s war,” acknowledged Sheptyskyy matter-of-factly.
Numerous small companies have felt the burden of Russia’s invasion, and the Nationwide Financial institution of Ukraine has projected that inflation in the nation will reach around 30% by the top of the yr. In October, the unemployment price in Ukraine was 34%, and 28% of non-public companies had shut down, in keeping with the report. The World Financial institution estimates that Ukraine will want a minimum of $349 billion to rebuild itself, however that was before Russia started directly targeting civilian infrastructure. The financial challenges Ukraine presently faces have had notably excessive ramifications for the small- and medium-size companies, which the government reported, in 2020, account for 85% of the nation’s job market.
Lviv has empty storefronts throughout the town, some nonetheless bearing the title of the enterprise that when was energetic however is now boarded as much as forestall looting. There was once near 40 New York Road Pizza eating places all through Ukraine, however many of them have closed. Whereas Sheptyskyy nonetheless owns the franchise, he’s not instantly concerned in protecting monitor of which places have stayed open regardless of the warfare.
“I think they have some in some cities, but I don’t know. That’s what’s happening now. Many businesses are closing, closing, closing, but we try to keep going,” Sheptyskyy defined, after which motioned towards the impromptu stage subsequent to the desk the place we had been sitting. Folks come for the music, some to see Sheptyskyy play.
The restaurant proprietor maintained a stage of humor throughout our time collectively. He’s 61, on the cut-off age for the mandate that requires all males 18 to 60 to remain in the nation, ought to they be wanted in the army. With fun, Sheptyskyy instructed me that there was a celebration at this location the evening earlier than the warfare started. The get together ended in the early morning hours, and Sheptyskyy posted movies on Fb of his mates singing and ingesting. He awoke a couple of hours later to quite a few messages — “Take these videos down,” all of them mentioned. “We are at war.” Sheptyskyy leaned again in his chair and mentioned, “No one can believe it. Closed business, no customers, nothing, everything was dying.”
I requested Sheptyskyy to inform me extra about his life in New York, the place he went, what he did, and whether or not he had any loopy tales. However he modified the course of our dialogue. “I have to go back to New York again. How’s Trump?” he requested sarcastically, because the future president was a bombastic native presence when Sheptyskyy’s band was taking part in round NYC. Sheptyskyy then once more talked about one of his oldest mates in New York, Sinatra, who claims to be Frank’s nephew and who additionally says he as soon as knew the previous president when he lived in New York, in the ’90s. Sheptyskyy has stayed in contact with this good friend over time, and Sinatra has checked in typically because the warfare started. His good friend now lives in Florida, and asks what he can do for Sheptyskyy: “He tells me ‘Come to Florida.’ I say no, I can’t, I like Ukraine.”
Then our interview was over and I returned to my mounds of clothes, bracing for the freezing temperature and the snow that might smack my face after I stepped outdoors. Sheptyskyy stopped me and requested if I wished to listen to him sing a conventional Ukrainian tune earlier than I left. “Of course,” I replied. He then headed for the stage — had he been hoping I’d say sure? Most likely, as a result of he regarded so snug as he exclaimed into the microphone. Clients paid little consideration to him, seemingly used to the performances which may get away at any time.
As soon as the tune was over, I requested Sheptyskyy about his plans for the long run. With a smile, he mentioned, “I’m going back to New York, and this time I bring my wife and young son.”
On December 16, I acquired a name from Sheptyskyy whereas strolling to the Nostrand Avenue subway station in the pouring rain. However the 4 phrases the restauranter mentioned made me cease in my tracks: “I’m in New York!” He and his household had been in New York for 2 weeks, staying in Brighton Seaside — Little Russia. With little time to speak, Sheptyskyy instructed me he would name me again. We converse subsequent on December 28. “Back in New York, very happy to be here,” he says to me over the telephone.
Russia had launched a brand new spherical of missile assaults. Ukraine’s Protection Ministry wrote on Twitter, in response to the assaults, that Russia had been “saving one of the most massive missile attacks since the beginning of the full-scale invasion for the last days of the year.”
“We will stay here for a few months, maybe a year. It’s nice to be here for some time,” says Sheptyskyy, referring to the bombardments. I ask what his plans are for New Yr’s, and if Vidlunnya will get again collectively. “I was going to go out for New Year’s, maybe perform. But now I think I’ll stay in. My kid is 15 months old, I have to watch him,” he replies.
However Sheptyskyy nonetheless has plans to carry out in New York, and goals to start out Ukrainian music festivals all through the state, saying, “No one in Ukraine wants to go to festivals right now.” Vidlunnya has been changed with a brand new title, Stepan’s Band. “Like my first name,” he provides. “We will play with band of four people, some from Brooklyn and others from Jersey.”
“Are you the lead singer?” I ask, already figuring out the reply. “Yes. And saxophone player,” he replies, with a small giggle.
Stepan’s Band hopes to play in Brooklyn and Manhattan. However the first gig will occur on the restaurant Scorching Potato, in Brighton Seaside. My final query is one which has been constructing since our name started: “But Brighton Beach is predominantly Russian. How does it feel to be a Ukrainian there?”
“Brighton Beach Russians — it’s okay here. They don’t want to talk about politics. They are trying to escape Russia too,” Sheptyskyy replies. ❖
Anna Conkling is a contract journalist based mostly in New York Metropolis whose writing focuses on human curiosity tales and environmental points. For the reason that starting of the Russian invasion, she has been corresponding with Ukrainian college students, troopers, and civilians and writing about them for the Voice.
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