Cozy NYC pizzeria grabs a slice of 1980s nostalgia

ByBrie Killeen Localish logo
Monday, November 13, 2023
Cozy NYC pizzeria grabs a slice of 1980s nostalgia
Funzi's takes a 1980s vibe and mixes it with warm memories of the house of the owner's grandmother back in the day.

EAST VILLAGE, MANHATTAN -- When Kevin Cox was cooking up a restaurant idea, he knew he didn't want to only fill bellies -- he wanted to fill hearts, too.

Cox had a vision for a pizzeria that takes a 1980s vibe and mixes it with warm memories of his grandma's house back in the day.

With this idea in mind, Cox scouted around and stumbled upon a vacant space at 36 St. Mark's Place in the East Village. He knew he'd found a home.

"I just wanted to create that warm, unpretentious, dated feel and aura of the place." Cox said

And so he did.

Cox was able to turn the space into exactly what he imagined: his grandmother's place.

"I think a lot of the inspiration for the build-out of the space came from my grandmother's house," Cox said. "I wanted to pair New York's comfort food, which is pizza, with the place that everybody feels most comfortable, which is your grandmother's house."

He felt it would be even more special to name the pizzeria after his youngest son, Funzi.

After all, Cox wanted to make sure each feature of his restaurant was infused with meaning.

He went on to fill the shop with decorations and trinkets, like photos from his grandmother's house and a commercial bubble machine.

"It's just trying to do all these things that are just fun and weird because that's who we are," Cox said. "We're just fun and weird."

Funzi's opened in July.

"The mission in opening Funzis pizzeria was to open a platonic ideal of a New York City, specifically East Village, pizzeria," Cox said.

He's been there every single day since.

"Being in the restaurant, is something that I feel is so important for any business owner to actually connect with your guests. People are coming in to feed themselves with you, feed their families with you," Cox said. "It's a sign of respect and I want to share that respect back with them."

Cox will usually be found eating pizza and hanging out with guests on Funzi's porch.

"Sitting out here, just being able to connect with different people, being able to talk, that's why we have Funzi's porch," said Cox.

As involved as Cox is with customers, he is just as invested behind the scenes. He hand-picked his team using a simple strategy.

"I've never actually seen a resume from anybody here," Cox said. "Here, it's just like, are you a positive person?"

All that positivity, however, wouldn't get Funzi's far without a talented chef.

"You need to have a ninja bread guy like a ninja dough guy," Cox said. "Chef James (Jaworski) is that ninja."

Funzi's deliberately keeps the menu "on the shorter side," Cox said, so that each item can be made with care.

"I think that the unanimous favorite is the chicory, which is a very untraditional slice. I wanted the chef to make a green slice. Something that just was green," Cox said. "So it's just a really fun slice and people come back for that."

If the slices are the primary draw, the dessert is truly the icing on the cake, and Funzi's specialty is icebox cake.

"It's traditionally made with graham cracker, a chocolate pudding, and then Cool Whip," Cox said. "Right now we have a strawberry compote kind of a riff on a strawberry shortcake with butter cookies, fresh whipped cream, fresh strawberries and then a really chunky strawberry jam."

With an inventive menu and homey environment, the team has been working hard to keep bellies full and souls happy.

"It's just real. It's us. And it's comfortable and unpretentious," Cox said. "Our customers come in, and then they come back and they bring friends."

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