BY JANE BLOODWORTH ROWE
RED MILL — Charles and Shannon Cohen, owners of Brooklyn Bagels in Red Mill Commons, opened Brooklyn Pizzeria in that shopping center in July. Pizza places abound here, but they aim to provide a different style of pizza.
Charles Cohen said their establishment is a “pizzeria,” which, unlike a “pizza restaurant” focuses on the pie. You can get salads, sandwiches and pasta, but he’s not aiming to provide customers with a formal dining experience.
The small size and casual décor give it the atmosphere of an urban restaurant, and pizza maker Danilo Russo’s method for rolling crust, which involves tossing it into the air, fascinates some customers, Cohen said.
The real difference, though, is in the water filtration system, which makes the pizza more like that in New York, Charles and Shannon Cohen said. They believe that New York City water, much of which comes from the Catskill mountains, is preferable both in taste and chemical balance. They hired New York WaterMaker, a company that replicates the New York water filtration process, to simulate the tap water in Queens.
“The process takes the hardness out of the local water,” Shannon Cohen said, “and this provides the gluten consistency to make the pizza dough dense.” The added gluten makes the dough more pliable and provides a thicker crust, she said. The couple also use this water in their bagel shop and use it to make ice and fountain sodas.
Managing a restaurant requires long hours and hard work, but that runs in the family for both Charles and Shannon Cohen. His family owned a French restaurant in Brooklyn, and Shannon, a Portsmouth native, grew up working in her grandparents’ restaurant.
Charles Cohen moved to Virginia Beach in 2002 and worked in other businesses. He missed New York bagels and decided that, with all of the transplanted New Yorkers, there was a market here. He’d grown up in a restaurant. He had no experience making bagels, but he researched them and learned the water is key. He spent six months experimenting with recipes until he felt confident enough to market them. Brooklyn Bagels opened in June 2019.
Another space at Red Mill Commons became available, and the couple, who live in Lago Mar, decided to open Brooklyn Pizzeria. They were prepared to open earlier this year, but restrictions related to the novel coronavirus forced them to delay. The biggest challenge in launching the business, they said, was opening in the middle of a pandemic.
Still, Charles Cohen isn’t concerned because even if restrictions are re-imposed, the pizzeria can keep going with curbside, takeout and delivery, he said.
The pizzeria offers pizza slices or 18-inch pizzas with a variety of toppings, but customer David Scheurich prefers the “Brooklyn Style,” which includes pepperoni, sausage, onions, mushrooms and extra cheese.
“They grate their own cheeses and make everything fresh,” Scheurich said. “It’s nice to see a local, family-owned business.”
Brooklyn Pizzeria is at 2181 Upton Drive, Suite 404. Call (757) 702-0220 or find the business on Facebook via @brooklynpizzariavb.
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