Forget for a moment the long stretch of cars outside on NM 528. Ignore Intel's industrial bulk next door. Block out the vision of the Sandia Mountains looming to the east. Instead, when you walk into Venezia's New York Style Pizzeria, close your eyes and inhale. You could be in the Bronx, or even Little Italy. Because that smell is New York style pizza at its finest.
Order a slice. See that crust, how it's hand-tossed, puffy at the edges, and tapers to a thin, crisp middle? That's how you make a pizza crust. The sauce is of course made fresh each day with nearly a dozen different spices, the exact mix a closely-held family secret. As for the toppings, you can order from almost twenty different kinds, but if you're a purist, you'll stick with plain cheese. And don't even think about using a knife and fork. Just fold the slice in half and eat it already.
If you think about it, it's not much of a stretch to assert that some of the best pizza in New Mexico is located in a strip mall in Rio Rancho. Say what you will, Rio Rancho has nonetheless represented the epitome of the American Dream for hundreds of families-many of them Italian-American-who migrated here in the 1960s and 1970s.
Families like Aldo and Renato Venturino's. Lifelong residents, the brothers are also owner-operators of the most recent incarnation of Venezia's, a Rio Rancho fixture since 1978.
"My parents came over to America from Italy in their early twenties," says Aldo. "They loved Italy, but it's a poor country and they wanted a better future."
While the family, which included Aldo's parents, Maria and Adolfo Venturino, and his aunt and uncle, Clara and Frank Montanile, started out in New York City, they eventually made their way west in the early 1970s. "It was all those AMREP brochures," Aldo says, laughing at the memory of the controversial development company's questionable sales tactics. "The brochure showed all these photos of green grass, but when we got here there was nothing but desert."
Still, for many families, Rio Rancho was a paradise. "This was a place where you could really afford to make a new start," he continues. "For instance, you could afford to buy a home and the taxes were cheap. People back east, they couldn't believe how low the taxes were."
AMREP may have shined it on a little thick, but those who took the gamble literally built a city from the ground up. Rio Rancho was, and still remains, a place that rewards know-how and ambition. Maybe not in the lavish style of, say, a Donald Trump, but most certainly in a way understandable to the average American: the opportunity to work hard, to start a business, to produce a product or service that makes one proud.
In that spirit, Aldo's uncle Frank opened the city's original Venezia's, which thrived until 1995 when Frank and Clara moved to Arizona to be near their son and daughter.
In 2000, Aldo and Renato decided to reopen the restaurant. While uncle Frank has since established the Venezia's name in Chandler, Tempe, and East Mesa, Arizona, he happily lent his support and today serves as a silent partner in the New Mexico operations, which also include three Albuquerque locations.
"Doing this was a dream come true for us, just like it had been for our uncle," says Aldo. "My family, we came from nothing, we had nothing when we started out here. But we made something. My brother and I were talking about this, about our future, and this is what we decided to do."
But why the restaurant business? Between the hours, the regulations, the food and labor costs, it seems a downright daunting way to make a living. "If working in a restaurant is hard," Aldo concedes, "owning it is probably five times harder. But it's like my uncle said, you know you always have a job. Times get tough, you work harder and put more in to it and you'll always be able to pay your bills. We're not looking to get rich. We're looking to make a living and to give our customers a quality product. That's what this business is about-the passion of doing something well."
And if Aldo is passionate about anything, it's pizza. "To me, New York style pizza means pizza made with love. It's one thing to roll out some dough and toss on some sauce and a few toppings. It's another to carefully hand toss your crust, to make sure its edges are even, to make fresh sauce every day, to use the best toppings and spread them evenly on the pizza, from middle to the edge. I want my customers' last bite to be as good as their first. That's how I express it. Sure, it may only be pizza, but some people love pizza more than anything, right?"
In addition to four sizes, including a 24" party size from which the individual slices are served, and seven specialty combos, Venezia's also serves a variety of salads, calzones, hot and cold heroes and subs, and pasta dishes, all made fresh each day and presided over by Venezia's original cook, Aldo and Renato's mother, Maria. "She works six to seven days a week and makes everything from scratch," Aldo says proudly. "To her, there's no difference between these kitchens and her home kitchen. So she picks out only the best meats, the best chicken, the freshest produce."
Just as the brothers feel obligated to give their customers the best food possible, so too do they feel a sense of duty to their community. The walls are hung with commendations from local high school athletic departments, the Rio Rancho Fire Department, and UNM Hospital's Air Emergency Service, to name a few, all thanking Venezia's for its assistance.
"We feel very privileged to be able to give back to the community," explains Aldo. "We grew up here; we saw the city grow into what it is today. But to me, it will always be a small town where everybody knows each other, a good, safe place where I can raise my family."
And continue its legacy. "It's pretty simple where we're coming from: we want to make a living and we want to please our customers. We're honest, we're fair, and if we make a mistake, we fix it. That's how we were raised. That's who we are. Old-fashioned Italians, living the American dream."
Venezia's offers delivery, catering, and dine-in at three locations:
1690 Rio Rancho Blvd. SE, Suite E
3908 San Mateo Blvd. NE
1331 Juan Tabo Blvd. NE, Suite 2-F