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LaMotta’s brings New York pizza to you

December 4, 2019
By NATHAN MAYBERG (nmayberg@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

There is a shirt for sale at LaMotta's Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria on San Carlos Boulevard imploring you not to go to New York for pizza, to head to LaMotta's.

Their New York style pizza has been a cornerstone for 40 years in Fort Myers and though it is not on the Beach, it feels like the last stop as you leave San Carlos Island with signs directing you to there.

For boxing fans of a certain time and movie lovers familiar with the Oscar-nominated movie "Raging Bull," the name LaMotta's will immediately ring a bell as it is the surname of the late Jake LaMotta, one of the greatest middleweight fighters. Otherwise known as The Bronx Bull, he was the first boxer to defeat Sugar Ray Robinson, one of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers in history.

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Salvatore and Maria LaMotta founded LaMotta’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria 40 years ago on San Carlos Boulevard.

NATHAN MAYBERG

And if you are wondering whether the owners are related to The Raging Bull, the answer is yes. Owner Salvatore LaMotta's father Carmelo was a first cousin of the legendary fighter who died two years ago at the age of 95. The fighter made a name later in his life as an actor and by opening up bars in Florida.

Salvatore, who immigrated from Sicily in the 1970s, did not get to know Jake, however. He arrived in New York City with his wife Maria and opened up a pizza restaurant in Manhattan. It didn't work out though.

"Too much pollution, too much cold," Mr. LaMotta said. He tried again in New Jersey but it took a move to Fort Myers in 1979 to establish long-term success.

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"Nobody helped me. It was all in my hands and all in my brains," LaMotta said.

LaMotta, who will be 73 in December, met his wife in their hometown of Palermo.

"Times have changed," Mr. LaMotta said of their business.

Their son Carmelo helps run the establishment now.

They get their tomato sauce from Italy and cheese from Wisconsin. But there is more to it than that. There are secret spices and flavors to the pizza.

"For years they said you can't make a New York style pizza here," Carmelo said. "The water in New York has more minerals and vitamins. Here the water is warm."

Still, Salvatore finds a way to make it taste right, though he doesn't reveal how.

"It's a LaMotta secret," Carmelo said. "It stays in the LaMotta safe."

"We don't have a mountain," Salvatore said. "The water is better when it touches the rock off the mountain."

When they first started, competition was scarce for an Italian restaurant on this side of town, Carmelo said.

"It was all farms from here to (Route) 41," Salvatore said.

"This was a hot spot," Carmelo said. The plaza they are in at 15660-225 San Carlos Boulevard was occupied by a Publix and boutique stores which disappeared. There used to be a line out the door for pickup. They estimate their business is down by half or more since the plaza largely emptied.

"In 40 years, we've seen them come and seen them go," Carmelo said of the competition, including chain pizza places. "Everybody thinks they can come down and start a restaurant. It's very hard. Up north, you have loyalty, friends and family to support you."

It's a different support group here. "We have fought it out through the depression, stock market crash, 9/11, red tide, algae bloom, dirty water from (Lake) Okeechobee. But we're still here going strong."

Salvatore and Maria LaMotta split their time between Fort Myers and Sicily. When they are here, they work seven days a week. As tastes have evolved, the family has worked to upgrade the menu.

"We were one of the first to serve calamari," Carmelo said. "I used to give it away for free," Salvatore said.

While their menu includes such standards as chicken and veal parmesan, they have enhanced the choices to include veal marsala, chicken cacciatore, shrimp scampi, grouper, mussels, fettuccine, linguine, clams, sausage and peppers. They serve more salads these days and offer a wide selection of wines and hand-crafted beer. The coffee choices include expresso and cappuccino.

Even the pizza has extra options. Customers now ask for vegetable pizza, meat lovers and Hawaiian pizza.

Carmelo is surprised by it all. "Who thought that pineapple pizza would take off?"

 
 

 

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