The Pizza Box Connoisseur

Photo: Michael Berman
“People are surprised I’m not 600 pounds,” laughs Scott Wiener, who runs a pizza company. Photo: Michael Berman

To the average American, a pizza box is a disposable, oily compilation of cardboard, taking up room in the fridge until the last slice is gone. But to Scott Wiener, a pizza box is a work of art. That’s why he holds the Guinness World Record for largest collection of pizza boxes.

Wiener eats, lives, and breathes pizza. During the day, he runs a pizza tour company, taking groups of tourists to 40 different pizzerias around New York City on a yellow school bus. But the job takes a lot of research, he says. “It’s not just waking up, eating pizza, and getting a paycheck.” 

Nearly six years, 1,500 tours and over 25,000 tour guests later, Wiener is planning a traveling art show featuring pizza boxes around the world, from Brooklyn to Austin, Tex., to the rest of the world. Below, he reveals the country that uses the world’s most intelligent pizza box (not America), how to order pizza the right way, and where his love for dough, red sauce, and cheese first began.

Age: 32
Based in: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Graduated from: Syracuse University; majored in television, radio and film and minored in music
Years in the business: About 6
Previous jobs: Sound and production guy on reality TV shows and indie films; worked at recording studio; caretaker of a historic ferryboat; events coordinator for Hoboken, N.J.

None of which really involves pizza, unless you count the favorite food in Hoboken. I quit my job working for Hoboken and gave myself 6 months to do whatever I wanted. I had always really been into pizza; I took a bunch of friends on a bus as a massive birthday celebration for myself and rode around and ate pizza all day. It was the most fun ever, and I made it into a business in 2008. Then I added walking tours. It’s more effective than a book or a blog; looking at photos of pizza just makes you hungry. I wanted to eat.

Describe in a few sentences what you do every day. Almost every day, I run 3-to-4-hour public and private tours of significant pizzerias around New York City. Beyond that, it’s a lot of research and bookkeeping work.

Define “significant.” Ones with really great food and interesting backstories, including Lombardi’s, John’s of Bleecker Street, Joe’s Pizza, and Patsy’s. Almost every pizzeria in New York.

I read that you have collected 650 pizza boxes from 45 countries around the world. I hold the Guinness World Record for largest collection of pizza boxes. I accumulated a lot of them when I was writing my book about pizza boxes, and a lot from my friends who traveled.

Where do you keep them all? In a closet in my Brooklyn apartment, flattened down. They don’t take up much room.

Aren’t you worried about mice? They’re mostly unused. I haven’t seen a single vermin yet.

One of Weiner’s favorite pizza boxes, from a pizzeria in Amsterdam, features artwork of Homer and Bart Simpson.
One of Wiener’s favorite pizza boxes, from a pizzeria in Amsterdam, features artwork of Homer and Bart Simpson.

What makes a high-quality pizza box? In terms of the artwork on the box, it must have catchy, on-brand imagery and send the point directly – the name of the pizzeria and location. (I love the Ed Hardy artwork on the box from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco.) Then there’s the design of the physical box. The best ones get rid of steam but trap heat – which most pizza boxes in the U.S. don’t do. The only places in New York using anything different are Rossopomodoro, the pizzeria located inside Eataly, and Don Antonio near the Theater District. It’s lined with a metallic polyester coating that helps conduct heat for a better delivered pizza.

Why don’t more pizzerias use that? Since the late ’70s, America has used a corrugated box with a front flap that folds over the two side flaps and lock into place. That lock holds it together; it’s a box made for sturdiness, not steam release. And we’ve gotten so used to those boxes that we’re slow to change from the traditional, authentic product. The primo box costs just under $1 when normal pizza boxes are about $0.35.

The most well crafted pizza box you’ve ever seen: Structurally, the VENTiT box from India, which is reverse engineered from corrugated cardboard pizza boxes in the America – boxes that are made to hold books and cell phones, not food. (Solvents like oil makes the cardboard deteriorate, and the food changes a bit.) The VENTiT box has holes to let steam escape through the middle layer and then the outer layer, without touching the pizza. India is a new pizza market, so that box is working there.

Why are pizza boxes square if a pizza is round? A circular box would be much more complicated to fold, and wouldn’t stack straight or be as sturdy. Square boxes are far superior – there’s more room for steam and for those little dipping sauces inside.

Do New York-style pizza and Chicago deep-dish pizza require different boxes? Totally. Chicago uses an inverted box, in which the top locks in the bottom – the side walls collapse when you open the box and it flattens out. It’s only used there.

Best part of your job: I get to meet people every day who want to talk about pizza. It’s really fun because everyone speaks the language of pizza. It’s not hard to get people to come on a pizza tour – but when they show up, they’re always skeptical of what more they can learn about pizza.

Most challenging part of your job: There’s not a great written or reported history of pizza. Nobody is really studying this stuff.

If you could eat one type of pizza for the rest of your life, it would be: Margherita pizza. To me, that’s home.

A Domino's pizza box from Japan.
A Domino’s pizza box from Japan, part of Wiener’s collection.

Something people would be surprised to learn about pizzerias: All coal oven pizzerias clean their ovens around 4 p.m., so don’t go around that time. You’ll have to wait an extra 30 minutes.

Best pizza pro tip: Ask for your pizza to be delivered uncut. It will be a lot less oily in the box; it’s easier and cleaner to cut it yourself.

Your required reading: Pizza: A Slice of Heaven by Ed Levine and Ripe: The Search for the Perfect Tomato by Arthur Allen. I also wrote a book called Viva La Pizza! The Art of the Pizza Box.

What would you do if you won the lottery? I run a nonprofit called Slice Out Hunger, which raises money for the homeless through pizza fundraisers. Last year, we raised $20,000, which fed meals to 100,000 people. I’d put a lot more resources to that if I won the lottery.

Do you smell like pizza 24/7? I probably do. Maybe that’s why people hang out with me. 

Learn everything you can about the subject matter you’re interested in. Become obsessed. If you’re not willing to become obsessed, don’t take a career in it. I still study every single day.

You can learn more about Scott’s pizza tours on his website.

NEXT: The Anti-Deep-Dish Pizza Chef in Chicago

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