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Pepe's was founded in 1925 by Frank Pepe, an Italian immigrant who was born in Maiori, Italy, and immigrated to New Haven, CT at the age of 17.
Pepe's originated the New Haven-style thin-crust pizza which he baked in a coal-fired brick oven. Originally, Frank Pepe only made two varieties of pizza: the "plain" (oregano, chopped garlic, tomato sauce, and grated pecorino romano cheese) and the "marinara" (tomato sauce, grated cheese, and anchovies).
In the alleyway adjacent to Pepe's, the owner of the building's nephew Bear would open clams and sell them on the half shell to passersby. Pepe's restaurant began serving littleneck clams on the half shell at the bar. It was only a matter of time before he decided to put the clams on the pizza. The white clam pie is just crust, olive oil, oregano, grated cheese, chopped garlic, and fresh littleneck clams. The restaurant will serve the pizza with or without mozzarella cheese, but they try to discourage customers from ordering it with mozzarella because they feel that it makes the pizza too heavy and rich. They are also adamant on using freshly shucked clams as opposed to canned clams; if fresh clams are not available then they will not serve the white clam pie. Three men are employed by Pepe's just for shucking the clams on location. Since its invention, the white clam pie has become the signature pizza of pizzerias in New Haven.
All Pepe's ovens are coal fired and built in exactly the same manner from brick, based on the original. They measure 14 feet by 14 feet and cook pizzas in approximately 8 to 10 minutes. The oven cooks at 65 degrees F.
The preparer of Pepe's pizza is named a Pizza Banger and works in full view of the customers. Another fascinating activity is performed by Pizza Oven person who loads and retrieves the pies - named in 2009 "Best Pizzas on Earth" by The Guardian - with an unusually long paddle.
Robert De Niro, Henry Winkler, Kelly Clarkson, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Ernest Borgnine, John Turturro, Bill Clinton, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry Miller, Kevin James and Vince Vaughn have all be sighted at the New Haven location.