When Juan Ramirez and his brother first bought the Spot Tavern, Ramirez thought that he would still be able to keep his sales job at a car dealership.
"I thought that I could still sell cars when we first opened," said Ramirez, who sold cars for six years before purchasing the tavern. "But we had to be here every day. This became our full-time jobs."
Ramirez and his brother George, who grew up in Union City and still live in the neighborhood, were able to attract customers through word of mouth to the nightclub.
However, after six years, there was only one thing that their customers kept asking for when they walked in: food.
"A lot of the customers would have food delivered to them while they were at the bar," said Ramirez. "I would, too."
About five months ago, the tavern added a wood-burning brick oven and a food menu. They began focusing on fresh pizza.
But why pizza?
"All of my customers would sit at the bar and order Dominoes," said Ramirez. "That was money I could be making."
The Spot Tavern is now called Mama Rosa's Brick Oven Pizza, although it still has a bar.
Mama Rosa's also offers the YES network, which will air all of the Yankee games this season, as well as the NFL Ticket, which allows the tavern to air all Sunday afternoon football games.
"We want people to come out to enjoy games here and enjoy good food," said Ramirez.
Not just any pizza
Mama Rosa's wood-burning brick oven is one of only a handful in New Jersey. Most brick ovens run on gas or electricity. At Mama Rosa's, the oven is heated by burning wood.
"The wood is expensive," said Juan Ramirez. "But you can't beat the taste."
According to Executive Chef and consultant Tony Guglielmelli, a wood-burning brick oven can get as hot as 800 degrees, allowing the pizza to cook in about three minutes. This high heat also gives the pizza a thin, crispy crust.
"The wood-burning oven gives the pizza a smoky flavor and a crispy texture," said Guglielmelli.
Brick oven pizzerias are known for using fresh ingredients, like white mozzarella and basil.
Although "The Spot" is still painted on the white, windowless building, the tavern has dispensed with its weekly Thursday night dance club.
"I would rather do something strong seven days a week," said Juan Ramirez about serving food at the restaurant as opposed to opening the nightclub. "Then only having one strong night."
When the Ramirez family first began researching for their new pizzeria more than one year ago, they knew they didn't just want to be like every other pizza place.
"We could have just gotten a brick oven, but then we would be like every other pizzeria," said Juan standing behind the bar.
Three ingredients for success
According to Guglielmelli, although the oven does add a lot to the taste of the pizza, it is not the only factor that makes Mama Rosa'a so good.
Guglielmelli said that the pizza at Mama Rosa's is more like the pizza that can be found in parts of Italy.
The fresh, hand-wrapped mozzarella cheese used to make Mama Rosa's Margarita Pizza, which comes in an individual pie for $7 and a large pie for $10, melts in little dots of cheese.
Guglielmelli said that the ingredients that go into the pizza are all fresh and imported from Italy, including the flour used to make the dough.
"The flour is processed very finely," said Guglielmelli. "It is almost like powder."
The pizza sauce is made from plum tomatoes imported from San Marzano, Italy. Each pizza is also made using fresh, hand-wrapped mozzarella cheese.
Besides pizza, the menu also offers a grilled chicken sandwich for $6.50 that combines lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and Swiss cheese on fresh-baked pizza bread, lightly dusted with olive oil.
Each roll used for the sandwich is baked fresh to order in the wood-burning oven.
The menu also offers a regular bar menu including hamburgers ($3.25), a pizzaburger ($3.75) and an order of 10 buffalo wings ($7).
All in the past
Many of the residents living in the area are happy with the change in the corner tavern.
"The neighborhood needed something like this," said Ramirez, adding that there aren't many attractive places for residents to eat and have a drink nearby.
The new plan has kept the brothers away from the city's Alcoholic Beverage Control board. The Spot Tavern has had a record of violations dating back to 1998.
According to records kept by the city's license inspector, Leonard Lucente, the tavern had its last suspension, a 15-day suspension for violating the city's one-way door policy, on August 10, 2001. Prior to that penalty, the tavern had three charges of acts of violence between 1998 and 2000 and was fined for serving minors twice in that period of time.
George Ramirez said that by September he plans to renovate the outside of the building as well as the inside. Ramirez said that they plan to add windows to the building and more tables in the back of the bar.