Happy pizza poetry day, everyone! To celebrate, we sat down with Darryl Reginelli, owner of Reginelli’s Pizzeria, to talk poetry, pizza, and creativity.
Big Class: What was your path, and how did Reginelli’s come to be?
Darryl Reginelli: While I was in college at UNO, I started working at a back waiter at Arnaud’s. I worked there for 5 years in a number of different front of the house positions. I liked it so much that I decided I wanted to stay in the industry. I then got a job as the general manager at wine bar and bistro, and it really flourished from there. I found my creative outlet. I enjoy the hospitality and the creativity of the restaurant business.
BC: Can you talk more about the connection between hospitality and creativity?
DR: To me, it was the fun of exploring with food in the kitchen, and then bringing it out for people. My first restaurant was a full-service high-end Italian restaurant. It was called Reginelli’s Eating Gallery, and there was a working gallery of artists who put on shows throughout the year inside the restaurant. There was always an art and creative aspect to what I was doing.
When I sold that, I decided to use all the high-end ingredients, and turn it into a more accessible venue, like pizza. This was 20 years ago, and nobody used these ingredients on pizza. I took pancetta, prosciutto, roasted peppers, kalamata olives, and put them on pizza. I like to think that we introduced a higher-end pizza to New Orleans.
I was 25 when I started my first restaurant, and I was trying to create a place that my friends could enjoy. My goal then, was to not have an entree over $10. Now with the pizza, we really serve everyone from one-year-old babies to 99-year-old grandparents, and it’s still a really great family environment.
BC: I love that you were able to make those ingredients accessible to everyone. That really correlates with poetry, because some people find it hard to get into if you don’t understand stanzas or rhyme schemes. One of the great things about Pizza Poetry, is the students can write whatever they want, and everyone gains access to it.
DR: Yeah, it makes people laugh, and it makes people think. And it’s an interesting way of expressing yourself, whether it’s comical or satire, or even political.
BC: Can you talk about collaboration? I’m sure when you were building your idea for a restaurant, you had a team to bounce ideas off of.
DR: The first Reginelli’s that we built at State and Magazine was very hands-on. We made all the tables, we made the bar. I had a lot of great friends that helped translate our ideas to something tangible.
BC: Did you enjoy writing or reading when you were a kid?
DR: I struggled in school, and I have dyslexia which would slow me down. But my proudest writings were the things that I connected with, and when I wrote about something that was real to me. Those were the best papers that I liked to write—the ones where I was being open and honest, and really truthful, and writing about something that I cared about.
BC: Definitely. Do you have any advice for some of our young writers? How can students bring their ideas of what they want to be into reality?
DR: I would always get these ideas that my family would say were crazy—like, you can’t open a restaurant, you don’t have any money, why don’t you just work in a restaurant? Well, that wasn’t my idea. I had goals, and different things that I wanted to do. And even if they’re small or big, don’t laugh at your goals or get scared to try something. If you never try, you’ll always wonder if you could’ve achieved it. Use your instincts, and if you want to do something, don’t be afraid to try.
BC: So what’s next for you, and for Reginelli’s?
DR: We will continue to expand the Reginelli’s Pizzeria. And, just this year, I decided I want to try a new concept out too. So, I’ve got an idea about a new concept I’d like to introduce to New Orleans. I think it could be fun, and it could give us some more opportunities to grow. So, I think we’re going to start a new concept this year.
BC: Exciting! And no previews of what it’s going to be?
DR: It’s not all finished, but I’ve got a big part of it in my head already. It’s too soon to talk about it yet though.
BC: Gotcha--you’re in the brainstorming and drafting phase, and you’re not quite ready to be published yet. Well, do you have any questions for us?
DR: No, I just think it’s great that you’re able to put the Pizza Poetry out there. It’s fun, and it shows all ages of creativity: the humor, the sarcasm, and what’s in people’s minds. It’s a lot of fun, and it makes people think. We enjoy being a part of it.