While working at the red-hot Roberta's Pizza in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, Parma native Vince Morelli picked up plenty of transferable tips. But more than anything, he says, it was the rock-and-roll vibe and fearless sense of adventure that permeated the ever-expanding enterprise that intrigued him the most.
“I loved the fast-paced atmosphere and the attitude of doing what you want and having fun,” says Morelli.
For the past year, Morelli has been working behind the scenes to open a pizza shop of his own. He secured a space that sits next to hallowed ground: the vacant lot where Steve’s Lunch had dished up chili dogs 24 hours a day for more than 60 years. In addition to being located on one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, the spot has a strong personal connection.
“I used to go to Steve’s with my dad, and he used to go with his dad, so it’s special,” he says.
Formerly home to PM Security, the sturdy brick building (5010 Lorain Ave.) on the eastern edge of Detroit Shoreway will undergo significant renovations by the landlord before being handed over to Morelli. When he’s done with it, likely this summer, he’ll open Cent’s Pizzeria.
While a 100-percent wood-fired pizza oven will be prominently displayed in the open kitchen, Morelli doesn’t call his style Neapolitan as the term is too limiting. His naturally fermented doughs will be capped with house-stretched mozzarella and a wide variety of creative toppings.
The operation will be casual, with diners placing their order at the counter and grabbing seats inside or out. Runners will deliver the food. Up front, coolers and shelves will be stocked with self-serve beers and natural wines.
“Natural wines are going to be a big part of what we do,” says Morelli, who was immersed in the products back in Brooklyn.
Morelli never anticipated a career in food. After graduating with a fashion degree from Kent State, he landed his “dream job” as a product developer for a well-known clothing brand. He started working in restaurants on weekends and soon realized that cooking was his true calling. Stints at places like Roberta’s further cemented the notion and set him onto his current ownership path.
"Cent," by the way, is short for Vincent, if you were wondering.