Owner of Morristown Hotspot Coniglio’s Says Pizza Saved His Life

"I felt that this is what I was born to do," says Nino Coniglio.

Nino Coniglio and his wife, Shealyn Brand Coniglio, toast sodas behind a large pizza at their Jersey pizzeria, Coniglio’s Old Fashioned in Morristown
Nino Coniglio, right, with his wife, Shealyn Brand Coniglio, at their first Jersey pizzeria, Coniglio’s Old Fashioned in Morristown. Photo courtesy of Louis Cabrera

Are you a pizza classicist or a contemporary pie connoisseur? Coniglio’s Old Fashioned in Morristown marries Jersey’s beloved pizza traditions with modern brick-oven flair.

Below, Somerset County-bred pizza celeb Nino Coniglio dishes about his Jersey upbringing, the journey to becoming a pizzaiolo, and why Morristown wows his Brooklyn friends.

There’s a viral photo of you wearing a T-shirt that says “Pizza Saved My Life.”
It’s true, and my wife, Shealyn Brand Coniglio, a pizza influencer, had it made for me. Making pizza and competing for trophies laser-focused my energy and talents on positive things. I’ve competed in Italy, France, Sprain, and the U.K., plus domestically. I’ve won Pizza Maker of the Year at the Pizza Expo in Vegas and World Champion at the International Pizza Expo, plus other awards. And I came out on top in the all-pizza episode of Chopped.

My life has always been dramatic. I was born in Brooklyn but moved to Bedminster as an infant with my mom and brother after my parents divorced. We lived in an affordable housing complex that was full of kids. We’d run in a pack of like 20, feeling wild and free. It was a very urban-style childhood, and I learned to take care of myself.

When I was 12, I started working at two pizzerias in Raritan, sweeping, cutting vegetables, whatever needed doing. It wasn’t a real job. I’d just show up, and they’d pay me in pizza. I wanted to learn how to make it, but the owners didn’t take me seriously. So what I did was take dough home and experiment with the crust, toppings, everything. Within a year the owners saw what I could do, and I started working in the kitchens. I loved it. I’d go back and forth, making pies and hanging with the cool Italian guys there. At that time, the late ’90s, Jersey pizzerias were still their own world, institutions in Italian towns where everyone knew and watched out for each other, like villages in Italy.

Coniglio's World Champion award from the International Pizza Expo is on display at his restaurant next to a photo of his newlywed grandparents

Coniglio’s World Champion award from the International Pizza Expo is on display at his restaurant, next to a photo of his newlywed grandparents. Photo courtesy of Louis Cabrera

Where does the life-saving come in?
Like a lot of high-spirited teenage boys, I started getting into trouble. I was hanging with bad boys and getting into punk, and breaking the rules seemed the right thing to do. I started going to Brooklyn for the punk clubs and moved there at 17 with the money I was making from my side hustles. I got a job at Johnny’s Pizza in Gravesend, which, like Raritan, was more or less an Italian village. When I was 20, I got a job at a pizzeria in Williamsburg with a new concept, the wood-burning brick oven. It was more of a restaurant than a slice joint. There was a lull between lunch and dinner service, and the chef used that time to teach me the fine points of pizza-making. I became a student of the art. I felt that this is what I was born to do.

I was taken in as an apprentice pizzaiolo at legendary New York pizzerias like Di Fara in Brooklyn and John’s of Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. And I became a true pizzaiolo. All this time, I often thought about what my dad used to tell me. ‘I don’t care if you grow up to pump gas,’ he’d say. ‘But give it your best, find what to love about it, and become the best gas pumper on the planet.’ I was almost there, but not quite. Pizza-making felt as natural as breathing to me, and I knew technique and ingredients so well I could be inventive. I was confident and raring to go. But how could I get noticed and rise above the pack? I had to find the answer.

Pizza at Coniglio's in Morristown

“I put my heart and soul into pizza-making,” Coniglio says. Photo courtesy of Louis Cabrera

I started to teach myself pizza acrobatics, which is not easy to do. You toss, spin and do amazing tricks and jumps with your pizza dough. It’s really entertaining and really tricky. I got this rubber pizza dough to practice with, and I got good. I entered the pizza acrobatic competition at the New York Pizza Show, a major trade show and convention. And I won. That was the first of many awards.

My prize that time was a trip with the American team to compete in Paris and Parma in Northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna, which many Italians consider the Boot’s food capital. I’d never been farther than Florida, and this experience opened my eyes. I was like a baby bird discovering it can fly. From then on, I put my heart and soul into pizza-making. 100 percent. It wasn’t a job; it was my life.

By the age of 30—I’m now 37—I was building what would become three pizzerias in Brooklyn and three in Manhattan. I met and married Shealyn. When we had our daughter, Penelope Luciana, last year, we decided to give her a Jersey upbringing and open our seventh place.

The interior of Coniglio's in Morristown

Coniglio only toured this space so a persistent realtor would “stop bugging” him. Then he fell in love with it. Photo courtesy of Louis Cabrera

How did you decide on Morristown?
It was fate. I was looking at available restaurant spaces all over, and this extremely persistent realtor was breaking my calzone about a place to see in Morristown. As it happened, I was going to visit my sister, who lives there and was a new mom. I looked at the realtor’s space mainly so he’d stop bugging me. It was perfect.

We got an apartment right on Morristown Green and opened Coniglio’s Old Fashioned on Halloween 2022. My commute is four minutes long and involves walking through the Green, past the statues and beautiful old trees. We’re really happy here. Morristown is one of the greatest places on the planet. For us, it’s like Narnia, an enchanted fairyland. My Brooklyn friends are amazed when they visit. The history, the diversity, the nature, the varied and spectacular restaurants, the thriving nightclub and bar scene—no lie. On Friday and Saturday nights, we’re open till 3 am.

Nino Coniglio, right, with his wife, Shealyn Brand Coniglio, outside their Jersey pizzeria, Coniglio’s Old Fashioned in Morristown

Morristown, Coniglio says, is “one of the greatest places on the planet.” Photo courtesy of Louis Cabrera

What is Coniglio’s Old Fashioned about?
I love a challenge, and planned a unique Italian dining experience and menu, a culinary playground where you can walk up to a counter to order exactly what you’re in the mood for. We have pizza of all kinds to eat in or order: round, square, upside down with the crust on top. Classic toppings and unusual toppings like meatball and ricotta or mozzarella and onion. Our sauce is made from Ciao tomatoes imported from Campania, our dough from chemical-free Italian Caputo flour, and our mozzarella is from Lioni in Union. We have pastas, salads, eggplant and chicken Parm, and hero sandwiches you can customize. There’s an onsite bakery with fantastic artisanal bread and pastries. And we’ve just introduced this country’s first rosticceria, which is a Sicilian food bar. They’re like the ubiquitous pizza joints here, or kebabs, gyro, tacos, or felafel in other countries—a quick fix or satisfying finger food. Rosticcerias offer snacks like arancini, chickpea fritters called panelle, pizzette (mini pizzas), and calzone pockets stuffed with meat. We’re doing all of this our own way, and it’s fresh and fun.

Do you ever slow down?
Never. And I just represented Coniglio’s Old Fashioned at the 2023 New Jersey Pizza Bowl. First, I won for best pizza in North Jersey, then went toe-to-toe with the winners of Central, South, and Shore for the super-competitive title of Best Pizza in NJ. My Grand Prize pie had Calabrese tomato sauce, garlic confit, crispy basil, Italian pecorino, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Lioni mozz. Pizza makes my world go round. Or sometimes square.

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