By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Bobby Chiafullo had the front door open, the ovens on high and was strapping a tomato-sauce stained apron around his waist when a man came in, noticing the sign outside that read ‘Bobby’s Back,’ and asked if Chiafullo was open for business.
He wasn’t yet, but told the man to order some pizza anyway.
“We’re giving it away today,” said Chiafullo, a barrel-chested man with beady eyes and a perpetual grin.
Chiafullo, who spent 37 years flipping pies on Bridge Avenue before making an exit to the Navesink section of Middletown, wants to make it clear: Bobby’s back.
For those who don’t know, Chiafullo’s Red Bank Pizza was a pizza institution in Red Bank for a half-century. Chiafullo took over the business his father started and ran it until two years ago, when he left town because the cost to stay was “a significant amount,” and he set up shop on Route 36 in Middletown.
In the time he was gone, the Red Bank Pizza sign was never taken down from the Bridge Avenue building, but it saw two different owners most recently Mangia Mangia, which lasted only nine months try to gain traction in a pizza-crazy town, but, “they didn’t work out,” Chiafullo said.
He got a phone call from the landlord recently asking him if he’d like to return.
“This was a nice opportunity to come back,” Chiafullo said. “We grew up here. This is home.”
Although Red Bank has seen an influx of pizza joints in the time he’s been gone, Chiafullo, who will still operate his Middletown shop, has no qualms about coming back to town and joining the competition.
In terms of reputation for pizza, Chiafullo says he has the following to get back into action. This time, though, he’s adding another layer to his offerings, with Christian Marc’s Bistro, named after his son, upstairs. It will serve a little Italian food, but not too much, because “everywhere you go there’s Italian,” he said. That part of the business will offer typical bistro fare: chicken, seafood, steak.
“The only bistro when we left was The Bistro,” he said. “If I do half as good as them, I’ll be on.”
Chiafullo brims with excitement when he talks about the old days when his staff would pick up the phone and know the name, order and address of the person on the other end of the line. Many of those same people are returning for Act Two.
“I know Red Bank from every part of it, when people called it Dead Bank to when (former mayor) Eddie McKenna revived it and brought it back, to (mayor) Pat Menna, who’s there now,” he said. “Pat’s mom still brings us figs. That’s the way it is, we’ve been around forever.”
Then another customer walked in a yelled, “Bobby’s back!”
Chiafullo invited him past the counter and recited his address: Parkview Terrace.
“See what I mean?” he said.
Red Bank Pizza officially opens today. The restaurant will be open 11a to 10p, Sunday through Thursday, and 11a to 11p Friday and Saturday.