A native New Yorker with the accent to prove it has opened Nizza Pizza Pasta & Subs on the edge of the Baylor University campus, where he prepares his family’s version of the New York-style pizza that began with his father decades ago.
“By the time I was 10, I was stretching dough,” said Dave Lushaj, 54, in an interview in between serving customers Thursday.
He has raised the Italian flag, so to speak, at South Fifth Street and Bagby Avenue, where he welcomes students and others to a 28-seat parlor that is short on space. He fills many to-go orders, but already is scouting Waco for a roomier locale, possibly near the Outback Steakhouse at Franklin Avenue and New Road.
“I’d like to open a full restaurant serving Italian dishes, seafood and, of course, pizza. That’s what we’re all about,” Lushaj said.
For now, he wants to establish Nizza Pizza as a crowd pleaser, as he reportedly has done in Arlington, Granbury and Weatherford. His website provides links to glowing newspaper reviews in those communities. But Lushaj said he knows he can’t rest on his laurels.
“We’ve been open a couple of weeks, and business has been steady. Those who try us love us,” he said, but added he needs to step up his advertising.
His menu includes combination meals and specialties such as deep-dish Sicilian-style pizza, Nizza’s homemade pastas, stuffed pizzas, baked entrees, stromboli and calzone. Salads, desserts, side items such as meatballs and Italian sausage, as well as soft drinks and tea, round out the bill of fare.
Nizza Pizza had its beginning in 1974 on Third Avenue in New York, where Dave’s father, “Easy” Lushaj, kept the neighborhood fed and his children working.
“He taught everybody how to cook,” said Dave of his late dad, who was of Albanian descent and married a woman of Italian ancestry.
After his father’s death, Dave Lushaj and other family members sought a warmer climate and moved to Texas.
He brought with him his love for running restaurants and continues to spread the Nizza Pizza name.
“To be honest, I’ve always enjoyed walking around the Baylor campus. It reminds me of NYU,” Lushaj said, referring to New York University.
He said he prepares his New York-style pizza by hand using the freshest ingredients and a stone oven.
Asked to name his biggest potential competitor in Waco, he said, “For what we do, I don’t think we have much competition.”