"Clone rangers" redux

I think I'm seeing double. This week's "Clone rangers" feature got me thinking about one of New York’s original doppelgängers, the ubiquitous Ray's Pizza (for a taste test of the omnipresent pies, see The Ray’s Parade, issue 583). A peek at the Yellow Pages yielded 39 of them in the NY/NJ area, with names like Famous Ray's, Famous Original Ray's, Ray Bari and Original Ray's, all under a handful of different owners and franchises. There's even a Not Ray's Nick's Pizza in Fort Greene. Pop-cultural references, from Seinfeld to The Simpsons, have lent Ray's some degree of notoriety, usually spoofing the absurdity of so many carbon copies competing in their claims to originality.

So who is the original Ray?

Most people agree the first Ray's opened in 1959 at 27 Prince Street by a man named Ralph Cuomo. The story goes that he opened a second location, which he then sold to Rosalino Mangano, who renamed it "Famous Original Ray's." Mangano went on to open multiple Famous Original Ray's, some of which he sold to other owners, who then changed the name slightly, opened new locations of their own, and on it goes.

Eventually overt copycats tried to get in on the Ray's action, prompting the original crew of Ray's owners to join forces and sue. Lawsuits continue to this day, with two currently listed in the New York Federal District Court docket.

Of course, it’s not the only time the good old boys landed themselves in court: In 1994 Ralph Cuomo was charged with selling heroine for the Lucchese crime family, using the pizzeria as a front. He's out of prison today, and, according to a manager, is no longer associated with the restaurant, which now sells pizza…and only pizza.—Daniel Gritzer