Although the Food Gallery at Frist Campus Center stays open late on Thursdays and Saturdays, selling the infamous pizza that has become a part of going out for so many students at the University, usually when we think of food in Princeton — a town filled with expensive restaurants and small specialty shops — pizza doesn’t come to mind.
Instead, students and tourists alike tend to associate the town with the arguable leader of affordable college eats: Hoagie Haven.
Sal Cicero, the new owner of Iano’s Rosticceria, plans to change that by kicking off a rebranding of the pizza place, which is located across the street from Nassau Hall. It all starts with a new name for the decades-old storefront — Princeton Pi.
“We want to be very creative and very different. When you think of Princeton, you don’t think of pizza,” Cicero explained. “I want to create a landmark just like Hoagie Haven, and the new name references that to tie into both the local community and the tourists.”
Cicero has already expanded the variety of pizza he serves in the shop by offering over 20 new kinds of pies with wider plans to introduce further menu changes, new merchandise and extra deals in the months following the name change.
Hoagie Haven co-owner Costa Maltabes and his brothers kept a simple formula intact for the already-popular sandwich shop when they acquired the restaurant about 10 years ago — keep the quality up, the portions big and the hoagies easily customizable.
The novelty hoagies piled high with fries, mozzarella sticks and chicken tenders that the shop is now famous for were born out of customer requests, according to Maltabes.
“You wouldn’t necessarily think of making these combinations up when you’re sober, but they are really good though,” Maltabes said. “We don’t just put up anything anybody comes up with. We definitely try it out and make sure it’s a tasty sandwich.”
However, besides establishing a social media presence through an active Twitter account and Facebook page, Maltabes has taken a no-frills business approach to accompany the throwback simplicity of his shop. The approach focuses on the food and relies upon the luxury of the strong community reputation which the shop has fostered over its years of business.
Cicero plans to use more dynamic strategies to appeal to local residents and University students alike in an attempt to foster an identity within the community for the newly minted Princeton Pi that he feels Iano’s currently lacks.
To build that sense of community with the University, he has already begun the process of collaborating with students from the math department to create a tough equation as a challenge for customers each month. Whoever solves the puzzle first will receive one of the new shirts branded with the pizzeria’s new name and logo that Cicero has designed.
The shop will also sponsor an eating contest similar to Cheeburger Cheeburger’s “pounder challenge” in the coming year, according to Cicero. Finish a whole specialty pie, win a shirt and verifiable bragging rights complete with your picture on the wall of the store.
Besides the new policies focused on fostering more active community participation in the restaurant, two of the biggest changes to the pizza place will come in terms of the menu. Early next year, Cicero plans to introduce a breakfast menu at more affordable prices than he has been able to find around the town.
However, the addition of a discounted late-night menu may be the most important tweak in transforming Princeton Pi into a true rival of other after-hours stops.
“In Princeton after 10 [p.m.], you have two choices: Wawa and Hoagie Haven,” Cicero explained. “But neither of those are close or convenient for kids on campus. Do you really want to walk that far for a snack?”
Cicero intends to fill that void for students farther up-campus by extending his hours until 2 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights with the introduction of six new specialty hoagies similar in style to those offered by Hoagie Haven.
He hopes to draw the late-night student crowd — a crowd which makes up about 20 percent of Hoagie Haven’s business, according to Maltabes.
In spite of all of the coming changes, Cicero insists that at its heart Princeton Pi will try to keep its identity as a pizzeria.
“I wanted to bring good pizza to Princeton,” Cicero said. “Our goal is to be known as the best pizza in town.”