Since the start of the pandemic, Knightsville resident Brian Sclama, 46, and his family have tried over 100 pizzerias across Rhode Island. Two or three nights a week, the family of four will order from independent pizzerias across the state – mentioning Nino’s Pizza, Tommy’s Pizza and Catanzaro’s Pizzeria as a few of their more local go-to’s. With pizza shops struggling due to Covid-19, Brian and his wife, Vanessa, along with some of their friends, thought of a unique way to support the pizzerias: start a Facebook group that recommended pizzerias. Brian and Vanessa then created the group Rhode Island Pizza Fans in January 2021, which to date has 1,500 members.
But how did they get started?
In the early stages, Brian and Vanessa held several pizza parties with their friends. They gathered pizza from six to ten pizzerias in the vicinity and reviewed the different kinds – often taking a picture and posting it to the Facebook group. While they began in Cranston, there were only so many pizzerias to sample.
“We started in Cranston – that was the base of operations – and moved from there out,” said Brian.
The family ventured to pizzerias in Warwick, Providence and North Kingstown to name a few. The four always came to a consensus on choosing a location and had fun with the process by selecting a town and picking a pizzeria from that area.
Brian and Vanessa invited their friends into the Rhode Island Pizza Fans group, who in turn invited their own friends. There were only three group rules to follow: no negativity, no cursing and no slamming places. Brian said if a place didn’t have good pizza, don’t review it because the point of the Facebook group was to uplift businesses, not hurt them.
“We’re trying to get small places on the map so they keep rolling…I know these people work hard and long hours, and it’s easy to go out of business,” Brian said.
Brian has a personal connection to pizzerias since his dad ran a Pizza Hut for many years and worked long hours. Brian’s dad wanted to open his own pizzeria and tried two times, but the places went under. Brian’s cousin also took a shot at starting his own place, but that business went under as well. From witnessing first-hand how his dad could work up to 16 hours a day, Brian knew how much work went into running and maintaining a pizzeria and wanted to help in the little ways he could throughout the pandemic.
In the spring and early summer of 2021, Rhode Island Pizza Fans took off as Brian and Vanessa’s reviews became more intricate. The criteria focused on describing the sauce’s taste and what the pizza reminded them of. Others online began engaging in the group and left their own pizzeria recommendations.
“It started to go bananas,” Brian said. “There are some places people have posted in the Facebook Group that help some lesser-known pizzerias get new visitors. Little niche places people may not know – and we’ll now go out of our way to visit.”
Brian also mentioned that Rhode Island has more pizzerias per capita than any other state.
As more people joined and left reviews of different pizzerias to visit across Rhode Island, some members started messaging Brian – requesting videos and merchandise. Brian’s two sons, Noah and Caleb, helped their dad create a TikTok account and any videos would be uploaded to Facebook and TikTok. YouTubers and podcasters have even reached out to Brian about collaborating, and Brian has collaborated with another local Facebook group called Another Slice of Warwick.
As for merchandise, the family took the suggestion to heart and launched an assortment of products including water bottles, t-shirts, kids clothing, sweatshirts and more. Several friends asked for crop tops, which resulted in the “Pizza Queen” and “Eat Pizza” options. One extremely popular product has a goofy picture of Brian with a pizza in front of him – the Rhode Island Pizza Fan members love it!
Even with the merchandise, the family’s focus continues to be about supporting others. Any profit from merch is donated to one of three charities: The National Children’s Cancer Society, Bob Woodruff Foundation and Veterans of Foreign Wars. All have personal connections, with Brian having served in the military and his mother also having had cancer.
Brian works as a government contractor for the air force and grew up in both Cranston and Warwick. He attended Christopher Rhodes Elementary School, Aldrich Elementary School and Bishop Hendricken High School. Vanessa is a coordinator for Cranston Public Schools and grew up in Cranston where she attended Garden City Elementary School, Western Hills Middle School and Cranston High School West. They have lived in Cranston for 18 years.
On top of ordering pizza from local areas, Brian and Vanessa have made pizza in their oven, the grill, and homemade pizza in their outside oven. The family hopes to keep the Facebook group going with the main intention of continuing to support the state’s pizzerias.
Ideal place to pick up a classic slice of cheese pizza:
This is an easy one for sure, Nino’s Pizza (500 Atwood Ave., Cranston, RI 02920). Customers can get circle or square pies and they offer a large menu and spacious dining room. 401-942-3137.
R.I. pizzeria that's a hidden gem:
NK Chicago Pizza (7673 Post Road, North Kingstown, RI). We found this place in December 2021 after a wrestling tournament at NK High School, just caught sight of it from the corner of our eyes. 401-295-1550.
Pizza to try if you're feeling a bit daring:
Fellini Pizzeria (2190 Broad St., Cranston, RI) This place has fantastic pizza, but if you want to try something a bit on the odd side, you will have to wait for the Thanksgiving Holiday season, when they offer Thanksgiving pizza. 401-467-5992.
Pizzeria to order from if you're having a party:
There are a lot of places that fit into this category, but if I had to go with one place over the rest, it would be Pizza King (1800 Post Road, Warwick, RI). The pizzas are big, filling and absolutely delicious. This location is a big favorite in Warwick, so I’m told. 401-732-1338.
Pizzeria to go to on a date night:
Without a doubt, a great place to take someone on a date, whether it's your significant other or good friend, would be Pasquale’s (59 South County Way, Wakefield, RI). They offer 3 types of pizza: New York, Neapolitan and Sicilian. 401-783-2900.
Pizzeria to visit for a night out with friends:
Awesome place to go would be Flatbread Co. (161 Cushing Street, Providence, RI). This restaurant is on College Hill, the pizza is super original, and they have a lot of beers on tap. 401-273-2737.
Pizzeria whose pizzas have a great crust:
Catanzaro’s Pizzeria (1283 Park Avenue, Cranston, RI). Family owned pizzeria that has the best crust I have ever had, ever! 401-946-8880.
Pizzeria whose pizzas have great sauce:
Caserta’s Pizzeria (121 Spruce Street, Providence, RI). It's Caserta’s, need I say more….401-621-3618.
Most unique pizza you've tasted:
Lost Valley Pizza and Brewery (50 Sims Avenue, Providence, RI). They put together some very distinctive pizzas, like the Gary Busy, which has tomato, pineapple, spicy capocollo and mozzarella. 401-302-4166.
Pizzerias in Cranston, Johnston and Warwick that everyone should try:
Lou Umberto's Italian Kitchen (1606 Cranston St., Cranston, RI) 401-432-6267; Rosa Mia Pizza (133 Greenville Avenue, Johnston, RI) 401-231-9770; and Pizza King (1800 Post Rd, Warwick, RI)401-732-1338.
Pizza that embodies Rhode Island:
Casertas, Casertas, Casertas! (121 Spruce Street, Providence, RI) 401-621-3618.