Grimaldi. The name of Monaco’s royal family denotes a different type of royalty on our side of the Atlantic: pizza royalty. Grimaldi’s famous coal-fired pizza parlor opened in New York City in the 1930s and has now expanded into an empire with locations in seven states (one in New Paltz, we’re sad to say, has closed its doors). Their secret, says Diane Agnello, née Grimaldi, “is that we are using the same recipe, the same structure of the coal-burning oven, that we’ve been using since 1931.”
So how do you give more exposure to an already well-established name? Put one of your sister operations on national TV. Agnello’s Coal Burning Brick Oven Pizza — the New City restaurant Diane owns with her husband Steve — recently appeared on the Food Network show Restaurant Stakeout, the premise of which is actually quite sneaky. Restaurant mogul and tough guy Willie Degel and a team of technicians equip small restaurants with security cameras to see how the staff behaves when they think management is not watching them. After much drama, tears, and laughter, Degel offers tips on how to really make business boom. Below, Diane tells all about their moment in the spotlight.
How did you get involved â€¨with Restaurant Stakeout?
One day the phone rang, and on the caller ID it said “Food Network.” Of course I didn’t think it was the Food Network, but it actually was. The producer asked if she could meet with us. She wanted us to be on the show since she eats at our restaurant and loves our food.
Did you immediately say yes?
At first we were on the fence — we didn’t want to be portrayed in a negative way. They promised they wouldn’t make us look too bad, so we decided to go for it.
Was it weird to have constant attention on you during filming?
Any time you have cameras in your face, it’s definitely intimidating. We filmed for six days, and I was really nervous.
Were there any other challenges?
At the time of filming, I was undergoing radiation for breast cancer. When the producers — two of them were women — heard that end of the story, they all cried. They insisted we weave it into the episode. And wouldn’t you know, the night it aired the phone was ringing off the hook. Women from Michigan, California, all over the U.S. called to wish me good health and God’s blessings. Getting that support from total strangers was incredible.
How was it working with Willie Degel?
Awesome. His TV persona can be a little abrasive, but to me he was amazing. His advice was really from his heart.
That advice was for you to hire a hostess, have your son act like more of a boss, and start delivering. Did you implement any of that?
We did hire a hostess. Before that the waiters were doing everything — answering phones, greeting customers, running credit cards — and it was all over the place. My son used to be very lenient, so the staff saw him as a peer. He’s really stepped up to the plate being more authoritative, and the kids are respecting him now. We didn’t start delivering, though. I don’t want to put kids out in a car when there’s bad weather.
Did you walk away â€¨with a positive feeling?
It was great since we got a lot of exposure. Over 90 million viewers from all over the country and even in Canada watched it.
What did you think of the episode?
We watched it here at the restaurant with our whole staff. It was a good show. Even though it showed some crazy waiters and waitresses, it also showed our close family dynamic, which is what I wanted. This way we do good by my family’s name.