“I’m a little nervous,” Mark Iacono says outside his 15-year-old restaurant in Brooklyn.
Iacono is opening Baby Luc’s, his first slice shop, after successfully operating Lucali on Henry Street in Carroll Gardens since 2006. You know the one: repeat celebrity sighting locale, perennial “best pizza” title holder, lines a mile long for excellent pies and BYOB. Even with all the accolades and longevity in the punishing NYC restaurant business, opening a much more casual affair a few blocks away on Court Street is nerve-wracking.
“I’m about to do something I’ve never done before,” he says, “I’m getting into a section of the pizza game where people have some really, really high standards.”
Although Lucali’s been setting the standards for pizza for quite some time, Iacono’s experience getting it off the ground a decade-and-a-half ago was much different than opening Baby Luc’s. Back then, he didn’t tell anybody he was opening. He just took the paper off the windows one day and asked his landlord to come down so it would look like he had customers.
“I think now I’m a little bit more under the microscope. Before, people were more lenient with me because I was a rookie, I was ignorant about it. The New York slice is a pretty serious thing. It’s what New York is famous for,” Iacono says. And yet.
“A New York slice can be better,” he says. “I remember as a kid thinking, ‘this is really good, but if they did this, this and this, it would be so much better’.”
So it would seem like the this, this and this would be all lined up at Baby Luc’s, which Iacono says could open as early as next week. But, as he says he did with Lucali, Iacono is going to let Baby Luc’s, which has been in the works for about sixteen months since “the lease just fell into [his] lap,” be what it wants to be.
“It’s something that I’ve been meaning to do for a long time,” he says, including an unfulfilled plan for a shop a little farther south about four years ago.
“Lucali was supposed to be a slice joint. But I couldn’t put a gas oven in, the space just screamed brick oven.”
And, as he explains, a brick oven and a gas oven simply produce very different types of pies, each good in their own ways. So good, in Lucali’s case, that people are already starting to hover around for tables more than an hour before it opens on a random Wednesday afternoon with rain in the forecast. People sometimes wait for hours.
“[Baby Luc’s is] gonna be more accessible,” Iacono says. There, he’ll have a gas oven stove to produce something like the slices of his childhood that could have been “so much better.” To make it happen, he says he’s been pulling 16-hour days between his two restaurants, with just one night off out of the last 30 to go to a Nets game.
“Gas by day and wood by night,” he says.
“Now, you open a restaurant, people will know about you. People will come. But it’s up to you to get them to come back. You gotta make sure you have amazing food, amazing service.”
Baby Luc’s will only have six seats inside, a few at the counter and a few tall-tops, with room for about 60 more outside. And it will have something Luali never had: a full liquor license. Iacono is already collaborating with Other Half, who a friend linked him up with, on the beer menu. He also plans to do pre-batched cocktails, too, but repeatedly remarks that everything is subject to change.
“It’s gonna take on a life of its own. I’m just gonna go with the flow."
Other than the commitment to foldable slices, and the expectation that they’ll be cut from 20’’ pies, developed by Iacono and baked in a gas oven, he’s mum on possible toppings, flavor profiles, or specials.
“I don’t want to over-promise,” he says. “I really don’t know what it’s going to morph into, just like I didn’t realize that this was going to morph into what it is. I just want it to take on a life of its own”
“We will get the pizza into the hands of the people,” he says.