The Best Pizza In LA Has Verona Roots


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In August, the Los Angeles Times named Secret Pizza the best new pizza place in LA. In such a food-obsessed city, that might be honor enough. But what made the win even more impressive is that Sean Lango didn’t even have a restaurant when he caught Angelenos’ attention. The 2001 graduate of Verona High School was making pies in his apartment’s oven.

“I’m just scrolling through the article and thinking, I haven’t seen my name yet,” recalls Lango, who had been interviewed by a reporter for what he thought was a story. “And then lo and behold, I see my name there. And I mean, if I’m being honest, it’s still surprising right now to me, because there’s a lot of really good pizza on that list, and I still feel like just some guy making pizza at home just trying to figure it out.“

Lango didn’t grow up in a pizza-making family with its own secret recipe. Like many kids of his time, he would regularly get a slice at Verona Pizza, once located in the center of town near Lakeside Avenue. When he got older, he made what he calls “pilgrimages” to Totonno’s on Coney Island and Frank Pepe in New Haven to get a wider appreciation of his favorite food. And Lango didn’t move to LA in 2019 to make pizza. He is a musician by background, who studied jazz and audio recording at William Paterson University. After years of playing on the East Coast, a friend invited him to pursue that career on the West Coast.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Lango’s music gigs evaporated. He turned, for solace and sustenance, to a hobby he had very carefully cultivated back home, making pizza. Lango had fallen into pizza making little by little over the years, at first buying dough from Verona Pizza and then shaping it on a $15 pizza stone purchased at Target. “I ended up with this thick, weird pizza that I didn’t know how to bake,” he says. “It was kind of unsatisfying.”

Then Lango discovered that there was a website for aspiring home pizza makers and he began to focus on making dough. He learned that a lot of pizza restaurants in our area shop for ingredients at Corrado’s in Clifton, and he started buying there too. In 2010, when somebody on the pizza website suggested swapping his Target stone for soapstone, Lango got a slab cut to fit his oven. “Now I’m not making some weird small pizza that I don’t like,” Lango says. “I can actually make something that resembles pizzas that I really enjoy.” He was living in a Jersey City apartment by then and his pizza became the go-to meal for friend’s birthdays and events. “It was something to do for fun and something that people enjoyed because it was a social thing,” Lango adds.

It was the social aspect of pizza making that got Lango back into it when the pandemic hit, but there was a problem: His local grocery store was out of flour. Through an online site, he secured a 50-pound bag. “I thought, I’ll ship a bag of flour to me and then I’ll have something to do,” Lango says. “But I didn’t want to just make one pizza. So I would make like five or six and then text friends. I wasn’t trying to sell anything. But little by little people kept saying ‘you should try and sell this’.”

Lango discovered that there were food pop-ups in Los Angeles, people making and selling food out of home kitchens and selling it through Instagram. So he decided to do the same. He would post when a pie would be out of the oven, and people would Venmo money and pick it up at his apartment.

“I wasn’t planning on doing it forever,” he says. “I didn’t even think it would last a month because I just thought that friends of friends might buy a pizza once or twice, just to be considerate, and it would just kind of fizzle. But instead of it fizzling, it caught on because there are so many transplants from New York and New Jersey, and even people from Pennsylvania and Connecticut would chime in and say, ‘I really miss good pizza too’.” Before he knew it, 10 pies had become 20, and then 30. And Lango was making them all himself, in his apartment.

A few months ago, Lango took the plunge and rented a former pizzeria in Montecito Heights, a neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles. It has large, restaurant style pizza ovens, but Lango is still making all the pies himself. He says that, because he never worked in a restaurant before, he is carefully mapping out each aspect of pie making–from dough to sauce and toppings–so that he can eventually hand off the tasks to others. He works at the business six days a week to do all the prep, but only bakes pies on three. Plain and pepperoni as before, but also sausage, mushrooms and, in a nod to California food tastes, jalapenos. And though he’s now up to 50 pies on baking days, the Instagram reservations go just as quickly.

“Sometimes I get the feeling that people think I’m limiting the supply because I want to create some kind of scarcity or I’m trying to make it this underground thing,” Lango says. “Genuinely, I would love for everyone to get a pizza. But I’m really just trying to keep it good. And grow it in a way that it stays good as it grows.”

Lango now operates from a former pizzeria, with restaurant style pizza ovens
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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected].


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