Scarr Pimentel Takes His New York Pizza Story Around the World

Scarr Pimentel is serving good, clean food that doesn’t weigh you down.

Scarr Pimentel.

Scarr Pimentel is on a journey. He recently spent a week in Dubai, where he’s working on a spring pop-up and in discussions with investors about the possibility of a permanent restaurant. Then he traveled to Tokyo, where he’s planning to open a pizzeria, possibly by the end of this year.

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He knows that Scarr’s Pizza, the New York restaurant he relocated last year to a larger Dimes Square space across the street from the original spot, is the type of business that could scale. But his success has been built on his attention to detail. After all, he used to mill his own flour in the basement before he found organic flour from upstate New York that met his standards. So, understandably, he’s taking his time to create the right kind of pizzeria in Tokyo.

“If I want to open up with just a slice shop, we can open up next week,” Pimentel tells Observer. “We don’t want to do that. We want to be more of an institution kind of vibe over there, as well. We don’t want to license it. I want it to be something like what we did here in New York, and be more integral.”

He’s already scouted potential areas, including the outskirts of Harajuku and Shibuya, as he looks for a Tokyo location that’s not too touristy.

“We want to be a homey spot, because the beauty of Tokyo is that you really don’t have to be in a super busy area,” he says. “People can get anywhere easily.” 

The Hotboi is a favorite at Scarr’s. Andy Wang

And Pimentel has no fear about taking a chance on an up-and-coming area. When he opened the original Scarr’s Pizza on Orchard Street in 2016, people weren’t yet calling the micro-neighborhood Dimes Square.

“The first two years, no one knew we existed,” he explains. “We were operating in the red because we opened up in a neighborhood that was quiet. Everyone’s like, ‘Why did you open up down here?’ I just loved being in the neighborhood, and I always felt like it was the last real neighborhood left in Manhattan. It always made sense for me to open there.”

Pimentel, a Black/Dominican pizzaiolo, knows firsthand how neighborhoods change. He grew up uptown before people started making distinctions between Hamilton Heights and other parts of Harlem. He worked at Emilio’s Ballato and then made pizza at Lombardi’s and Artichoke, so he’s seen how restaurants have been a major part of downtown’s evolution.

But even his own father was astonished about the location of Scarr’s Pizza.

“My uncle used to be a drug lord in the neighborhood,” Pimentel shares. “My dad used to spend a lot of time out here with him. When I told him where we were opening, he was shocked. He came up. He saw it. He was, like, ‘Man, they really cleaned it up. I remember stepping over heroin addicts on every block to get to any store out here back in the day.’ I was, like, ‘Yeah, well, things have changed.’”

Pimentel created a lot of change himself with exemplary slices of cheese pizza that were originally $3.25, and are still just $3.75. This is a great value for pizza made with organic tomatoes, organic flour and all-natural cheese. “Our organic flour is usually anywhere from two weeks to a month old,” he says. “That way, we retain all our nutrients.”

Pimentel is serving good, clean food that doesn’t weigh you down. There’s all-beef pepperoni, vegan Caesar salads and vegan garlic knots. There’s also beer, sake, cocktails, wine and a back room with tables guests can reserve. This is a total-package New York pizzeria.

He offers both classic and vegan slices. Andy Wang

Besides a food-hall deal that didn’t come to fruition, Pimentel has shied away from New York expansion for Scarr’s. He doesn’t want to dilute his pizza brand. (He turned the original Scarr’s into an omakase restaurant, Sushi Oku.) He’s rejected many offers in Brooklyn. Instead, he’s got plans for a slice shop in a Las Vegas casino that could open later this year. He’s also found a location in L.A.’s on-the-rise Melrose Hill neighborhood, where he hopes to open a pizzeria next year. And a pop-up in Seoul could be on the horizon, as well.

He’ll also be going on tour for his forthcoming cookbook later this year.

“It’s not a traditional cookbook,” he says. “It’s more of a zine. Yes, it’ll have some recipes in it. But it’s more of a bio about the shop and me and the foundation of what we built. We’ve had a lot of input on the design of the book. It’s going to be different. You’ll see the collages we put together. It’s an homage to older magazines.”

All of these aforementioned plans were already in motion before the morning of January 24, when Pimentel was awakened by his wife, Meagan, and found out he had been named a James Beard Awards semifinalist for Best Chef: New York State. Pimentel was surprised by the news—a James Beard nod had never been a goal of his. In fact, he admits, he didn’t realize  the significance of this honor until the congratulatory texts, DMs and emails flooded in that day.

“I knew of James Beard, but I didn’t understand what was going on,” he says. “If you know me personally, you know I’m being honest. I’m not a foodie. I didn’t grow up in that world. I wasn’t really excited about it at first, because I didn’t understand it. And then I started researching and was like, ‘Oh, wow, it’s a big deal.’”

The attention is nice and could lead to new ventures, of course, but it’s not like Pimentel needs more on his plate. Outside of the food arena, he’s also got streetwear collaborations in the works. (A previous drop of limited-edition Nikes included a pair that sold via Sotheby’s for $120,000.) He’s already been to Tokyo half a dozen times, and has fallen in love with pizzerias there, like Seirinkan. He feels a connection to the Japanese city, and plans to live there part-time in the future. He’s ready to show Tokyo that New York pizza isn’t just about slice shops.

“I know it’s just pizza, but I want to be a modern pizza parlor in a sense; like an evolution of what we had when we were kids,” he says. “It’s a bigger space. You sit down. You have a pie. That’s always been the vision for me. My first pizza job was Lombardi’s, and it was sit-down and such a great vibe. I always try to re-create that New York vibe.”

Scarr Pimentel Takes His New York Pizza Story Around the World