It’s Wednesday afternoon and pizza expert Scott Wiener is in his Midwood apartment, unwinding from an insanely busy stretch the only way he knows how: giving an interview about his career in the world of pizza while making a pizza from scratch.
Taking a day off from work is not Wiener’s strong-suit, but he is an undeniably skilled multitasker.
In October, he hosted his eleventh annual Dollar Slice Night, an ever-ballooning hunger relief fundraiser in which New York City’s top shops sell their slices for just $1 a piece. Wiener’s own efforts and planning for the one-night-only bash started almost immediately after the Tin Anniversary – he’s the lead publicist, event coordinator, host, and a thousand other titles, all rolled into one.
Somewhere in the midst of all that: Wiener filmed Season 3 of “Really Dough?”, flew around the globe to consult for fledgling pizzerias, penned oodles of articles for trade magazine Pizza Today, and conducted Scott’s Pizza Tours, the first real arm of his enterprise, which now resembles a Hindu deity.
His juggling act calls for a daily dose of elbow grease, fingertip grease, and occasional MacGyvering. On this particular day, Wiener simultaneously played interviewee, production assistant, and chef as he discussed his career and tinkered with a new rosemary-forward recipe to be distributed to his pizza tour customers.
“Usually, when I do interviews, I’m just sitting there at a table talking to somebody,” Wiener said as he put on a lavalier mic. “But I’ve got a pizza to make. And I can’t let this fall into the dough.”
Wiener works the dough – more yeasty than usual but with his usual Neodymium-free standards thanks to the lapel clip – in his galley kitchen. In between kneads and ladles and sprinklings, he shuffles in and out of his living room, which doubles as the exhibit for his Guinness World Record-setting collection of ~1,500 pizza boxes.
Choosing Midwood over, say, Midtown, afforded him the room to host his own mini-museum. Though, he now has more than one pizza box per square foot.
Wiener can’t get away from pizza. But he made it that way. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Wiener attended Syracuse’s Newhouse School, the program that seemingly counts half of the country’s TV personalities and media execs as alums. Many of his fellow bright-eyed and bushy-tailed frosh were drawn in by plaques of people like Marv Albert and Ian Eagle, but sports wasn’t Wiener’s thing, and neither was following the herd.
“Most of them wanted to direct commercials or be on TV,” he recounted. “So, when I found out they had a recording studio that nobody ever touched, I was like, ‘Oh, sweet, I can be a big fish.’ That meant I could record bands at night, for little to no money.”
Wiener didn’t want to be the next Bob Costas, but he wasn’t exactly getting paid like Nile Rodgers at “maybe a couple hundred bucks” per project. On the plus side, the local acts were willing to satisfy his rider.
“They would always bring me a pizza,” he said. “That was always part of the deal.”
When the Newhouse diaspora sent most grads to a Murray Hill apartment with pony walls or a one-bedroom setup in a minor league baseball town, Wiener went seaward.
At the age of 22, (“Or 23…I don’t know the exact years,” the 37-year-old said.), Wiener moved into a houseboat on the Hudson River.
“I was working in a recording studio in Hoboken, [New Jersey] and the owner offered me a position to help run a label he was starting. He said, ‘You’re fresh out of college. I can’t pay you, but I can give you equity in the company. Hell, you can even live on my boat.’ There was no real downside – ” Wiener said, before pausing.
“Okay, there were a lot of downsides. He’d let the bands sleep there and they were crazy and they were up all night partying. But I was willing to take the risk”
That was Houseboat No. 1.
Then, he started a 9-to-5 job and resumed life on land with his parents in Cranford.
“As lovely as that was,” Wiener said. “I knew it was not sustainable.”
One day, he half-jokingly asked his boss if her boat-owning friend would be willing to put him up. In lieu of rent, Scott would do odd jobs.
The next day, she relayed her friend’s fully-serious reply: Yes.
That was Houseboat No. 2.
Wiener appreciated his boss. But, he wasn’t as wild about the job. He saw colleagues put their coats on two minutes before the end of the work day and mosey towards the exit. To him, it was like fifth-graders itching to sprint home to their Nintendos at the sound of the bell.
On his one-year work anniversary, they gave him some much-needed encouragement, though it didn’t quite have the intended effect.
“‘Only 24 more years and you can retire,’” Wiener recalled them saying in the “Scott’s Pizza Tours” documentary. “That scared the hell out of me. I don’t want to do this for [24 more years]. I don’t want to do this for ten more minutes.”
Without rent hanging over his head, Wiener opted for an early retirement. There would be no gold watch, a la Dusty Rhodes’ speech, but there would be hard times en route to his American Dream.
In his spare time, the 25-year-old rounded up fellow funemployed friends for road trips to his favorite pizzerias and told them about the history and styles of each shop. When he turned 26, he rented a school bus and took an even larger group out for a mobile multi-stop pizza party, complete with goodie bags for everyone.
It was wholesome and fun and childish. And it was the genesis of Scott’s Pizza Tours, Wiener’s first major business venture.
The tour-guiding part was easy. Promoting the business and connecting with shop owners sans wifi or steady electricity in his floating home was another matter. Wiener trudged out to cafes, consumed all the pizza blog material he could, and steadily built a following.
New York has long been full of food tours, but mostly ones led by folks who would gladly accept $50 from tourists who could be hoodwinked into paying 1000% markup on a bag of roasted peanuts. For New Yorkers, these types were (and still are) held in the same regard as Times Square’s unwashed Cookie Monsters and unscrupulous comedy club ticket barkers promising drop-ins from Jerry Seinfeld and Kevin Hart.
With Wiener, there were no gimmicks or grifts. He was knowledgeable, funny, enthusiastic, and authentic, and he genuinely cared about the experience, making Scott’s Pizza Tours a must for eager vacationers and jaded locals yearning to discover the city’s best.
Stumping Scott Wiener with any sort of pizza query is impossible. Unless you’re asking him about what he plans to do next in pizza.
“I never finished my business plan for this thing. There’s no plan. The plan is to not have a plan,” Wiener said in the closing minute of his 2017 doc. “If I was so focused on a specific goal for five years from now, I might avoid great opportunities just to get to that goal. I don’t want to do that, so my goal changes every day. It’s all short term. In some ways, that’s not a great way to plan a business, but I think it’s a great way to plan a life.”
Two years later, he’s sticking to his not-plan.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do, at all,” Wiener confessed. “I know I’m gonna live in New York. I’m here. I’m only going to do tours in the five boroughs, for the most part. This is what I’m doing. I know pizza. Beyond that? What I’m doing with the pizza stuff could be anything.”
For now, Wiener’s “pizza stuff” includes: Scott’s Pizza Tours, TV guest spots, his recurring Pizza Today columns, frequent dais appearances, pizzeria consulting, a consistently endearing and appetizing Instagram account, and granting interviews to renowned outlets such as PBS, NPR, The New York Times, and The Sauce.
The rest – including a potential Season 4 for “Really Dough?” – can be classified as pizza stuff TBD. A management shakeup at Thrillist has the show in hiatus, leaving him, co-host/Lucali czar Mark Iacono, and the production staff in limbo. A recent meeting with Thrillist’s revamped regime went well, but ended without answers.
It’s unfortunate news for fans. However, pizza’s Felix Unger says he and his Oscar Madison are not fazed by the uncertainty.
“I love doing it. It’s a great way to travel and eat pizza I wouldn’t be able to eat otherwise. It’s just another way for me to get more awesome pizza experience, I don’t view it as more press for [Scott’s Pizza Tours],” Wiener explained. “If [Season 4] doesn’t happen, it’s just going to be harder for me to travel and eat pizza. But, if we get to do more shows – awesome.”
If this is really the end for “Really Dough?,” Wiener could conceivably pitch different concepts to other networks. He also might not pursue another show. Despite his personal and professional growth, he appears to be in touch with his teenage id. He’s also free of a TV super-ego.
“I come from the world of rock bands and punk bands. That’s why I love the independent DIY spirit of pizzerias. Bands printed their own shirts and made their own albums; then they started collaborating. Bands wanted to help each other out.
“I see something similar happening in pizza. They used to not talk to each other. Now, independent pizza is a real community. They know that by helping each other out, the whole thing is just gonna get better.”