WESTFIELD, NJ — Zeni Nimani has made over an estimated 250,000 pies, according to Outta Hand Pizza owner, Burim Regjaj.
“He’s in the best shape of his life. It must be the pizza making,” Regjaj said.
The easy-going yet animated Zeni joined Regjaj and his family-owned restaurants back in 1992 in Groton, Connecticut, and has been making pizza for the family ever since.
“This is not about Zeni; this is about Outta Hand Pizza. There’s a lot of guys here who do the hard work, it’s not only me,” said Zeni, who brings both showmanship and humility to the Westfield restaurant.
Back in the 80s Zeni, opened his own pizza shop in Queens, New York. But said that when it came time to close the shop, he couldn’t stay away.
“I wanted to quit the pizza shop, but the pizza wouldn’t quit me,” he said.
According to Regjaj, he estimates that Zeni makes an average of 30 pies a day.
“And that doesn’t include the calzones, rolls, and garlic knots,” said Regjaj. “We never thought about it, but that’s an incredible number.”
The Albanian-born pizza maker considers pizza making a hobby, not a job, he said, adding that it’s not all about him and that he relies on the close knit group of “paisanos” who contribute to the pizza making process.
“It’s not only me, a lot of people make the sauce and the cheese. I just have to put the final assembly together,” he said. “I’ve known these guys a long time. God put us together in one place — we were neighbors in the old country.”
Zeni is talking about the hard working crew that makes the South Avenue restaurant a success, which includes three family members (Burim, Beck and Zeni) along with Tony the chef, Jose and Walter who work in the kitchen, four Westfield delivery persons and three cashiers.
The team serves up traditional pies along with gourmet pizzas, wraps, pastas, calzones and more. Regjaj said the fan favorites are the Napolitano Pizza Margherita, Sicilian Pizza, Pepperoni Pinwheels and the Chicken Francese. But if you ask Zeni, the real art is in the plain slice.
“The plain slice shows a pizza best. Anyone can add toppings,” he said.
The restaurant is also known for their signature sauce — a generations-old recipe that has been passed down through the family — most recently to Nona Ija, Regjaj’s grandmother and the family matriarch who visits the US every six to eight months.
“’Bonu sigurt, sosi me acid nuk o sos,’ she says,” said Regjaj. “‘Make sure, not even a hint of acidity in the sauce.’”
While Zeni has made pizza all over the country, he said he was surprised when he came to Westfield.
“I lived in New York for many years, Orlando, Texas, Connecticut. I am surprised with New Jersey — it’s a beautiful place. This country keeps amazing me. Westfield is a very nice place,” he said.
The South Avenue restaurant offers counter service with seating available as well as delivery and pick up options.