How East Coast pizza infiltrated the Midwest at Racanelli’s

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The Racanelli’s storefront in Old Orchard on Big Bend Blvd. This is just one of many locations within the St. Louis area. Photo by Craig Reynolds.

It has been said St. Louisans love their pizza – those distinctly thin, flaky provel-topped squares. With St. Louis style-pizza being embedded onto the city’s rich culinary history as much as toasted ravioli and gooey butter cake, it’s a wonder that Racanelli’s, proudly touted as a New York-style pizzeria, has made itself at home in the city who loves its crisp pizza crusts. 

Racanelli’s was founded in 1994 by John Racanelli, a Bronx native who learned how to create hand-tossed pizza and other Italian dishes in his family’s restaurant, as well as under the mentorship of other influential chefs. He established his namesake pizzeria in University City, where he was able to carve out a niche by serving consistently good pizza.

With that, he sustained an atmosphere rooted in family values that gave customers and employees a sense of welcome and warmth – a sentiment that was reciprocated by the community. Over the years, Racanelli’s expanded to Kirkwood, the Central West End, St. Peters and Webster Groves in the Old Orchard neighborhood.

Tanya Stark and John Racanelli making the New York style dough together in house. Photo by Craig Reynolds.

Tanya Stark has owned the Old Orchard location for seven years. Stark – whose lively and friendly personality is evident the moment one steps inside the restaurant – is a native of Kirkwood but says she has always felt a connection to Webster Groves, which ultimately aided in her decision to fully invest in having a business in the Old Orchard district.  

“In 2015, I made the decision to purchase the business based on what I loved to do,” Stark said. “I enjoy making food that people like eating; I also love interacting with customers.”  

The Old Orchard community has always been a welcoming one that has offered many businesses an opportunity to connect with the values of its neighbors, and for Racanelli’s, it was no different. It would be easy to assume that the reception surrounding a New York-style pizzeria would be shaky, considering how loyal St. Louis is to establishments like Imo’s, Cecil Whittaker’s and the like, but for Stark, receiving support from customers wasn’t a challenge.

The interior of the Old Orchard location, where owners feel like they’re a part of the community. Photo by Craig Reynolds.

“I was very lucky that Racanelli’s had a built-in fan base with many loyal customers for years,” she said. “And it’s my job to continue to uphold the standards that have helped to build our reputation.” 

Stark ensures her restaurant consistently adheres to the values of pizza-making derived from the original Racanelli’s establishment and from John Racanelli himself, such as making everything from scratch, including the dough and sauces, and using high-quality mozzarella cheese.

Stark is always on point, making sure that she and her employees are abiding by the standards of Racanelli’s pizza in every order; with each decision intentional in establishing Racanelli’s as a brand and as a staple in Old Orchard. 

“We love being in Old Orchard and will continue to provide a comfortable place for all our customers,” Stark said. “We want our customers to take away an amazing product that they enjoy eating. along with a family friendly atmosphere where all are welcome.”

Webster grad student Igho Ekakitie says the atmosphere and the food are the reasons he considers himself a regular. 

“I’m from Nigeria and I love Imo’s, but since the first time I had Racanelli’s I was hooked on it,” Ekakitie said. “From the size of the slices, to the bubbling cheese and perfect sauce, I’ve been in love since the first bite.”

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Gerald Burton Jr.
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