#ProfileWeek: Love Is Sal Natale

A conversation with the heart and soul of your chicken roll.

The Lowdown on the Boogie Down | Rob Falcone | April 5, 2016

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If you’re a Fordham student and have never seen the man pictured above, I would prefer to not know what you’ve been doing with your life. Whatever it is, it’s probably dangerous, subversive, and unhealthy – so, stop… please. Most students would agree, Salvatore Natale needs no introduction. If you call yourself a Ram, his photo should spark at least a few memories. At the very least, you probably envision him serving students with a smile and playing various tunes on the saxophone. This can only be found at Fordham’s most undeniably popular pizzeria, Pugsleys. 

There are two distinct occasions when a student visits Pugsley Pizza. It’s a weekday afternoon and you decided to grab a slice after class with a friend. The other occasion, you went out on a weekend (sometimes school night !!) and have reached the point of night that hovers on the threshold of morning. You’re most likely one drink away from being reminded of what exactly you poisoned your body with earlier that evening. You’re at Pugs because your body knows they provide the physical, mental, and spiritual nourishment you need.

Recently, I sat down and got to know the legend who caps off your night of debauchery and helps you avoid being FUEMed – the heart and soul of every parmesan-garnished chicken roll.

What’s the story?  
Well, I am an immigrant from Sicily. Beautiful place. My father came here in 1976 and later that year my mother, my sister, and I came here. When we came we lived by Pelham Parkway.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up at a very young age. I was a nice kid, not stupid [laughs]. I had an aspiration to learn an instrument. I played saxophone. At 17, my parents gave me a sopranos sax. I wanted to play a tenor sax, but my family couldn’t afford it. So, at 17, I went to Germany, and over there, I bought my saxophone.
So, are you trilingual?  
Yeah I can speak German. It was great there. I grew up there playing music. Then after Germany, I came to America again when I was 23 years old. I came here and then I played in a rock n’ roll band.
What kind of rock n’ roll? Covers or originals?
We didn’t do originals. We weren’t too professional. I wrote some songs before, but just for myself. I had a lot of fun though, but eventually I didn’t like the lifestyle anymore so I quit.
So we shouldn’t expect a solo album anytime soon, I suppose?
No, no, no [laughs].
How long did you play in the band for?
When I turned 25 years old. I wanted to be a family man. I’ve always kept music as a hobby, though. I had a great time playing all over the place. We had bass, guitar, organ, saxophone, and drums. We played Blood Sweat, and Tears, Chicago, The Grateful Dead, The Beatles, you know? We played Frank Sinatra and stuff like that. Some saxophone pieces too. We did weddings, parties, and things like that.
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So where did the passion for pizza come from? When did you open Pugsley Pizza?
The drummer in the band was a pizza man. So, I told him let’s get a pizza store going. Then I eventually decided to open up on my own. I saw that the guys who owned their own pizza places had Cadillacs and beautiful houses. So I said, “Hey, maybe I can open up a pizza store too” [laughs]. I wanted to open up a franchise. We opened a few stores at the same time, but it was too stressful. Then I came here. We opened here in 1985. We’re thinking about opening another one again in the future though. But my dream, my real goal now, because of you guys is to have someone produce a reality TV show about what goes on here at Pugsleys. I’ve been working on a few deals to make that happen. 
Where did the name Pugsley come from?
That’s a billion dollar question and I’m the only one who knows the answer. But since you’re a good interviewer, I’ll tell you. The truth is, this place is named after a guy I know. His name is Mr. Pugsley. He is an incredibly intelligent man. I met him 30 years ago and he was 28 at the time. He had three PhD’s. He accomplished all of his goals and dreams. Very talented.

Where was Pugsley from? How did you meet? I don’t know where he was from [laughs]. You’ll have to ask him. Listen, 95% of us don’t have goals. 5% of us set goals and within that 5% only 3% accomplish them. You know, sometimes people get unlucky or people fuck up, but most of the time it’s giving up that stops your dream.  Giving up is the worst thing you can do. We can make our dreams actualized if we put the work in. Like you pick up an instrument, kind of try it, and then give up quickly. You got to reach down into your heart, find what you’re meant to do, and go do it. You know what I mean? You guys are at an amazing place. You get the best education in the country in the best city in the world. You guys are in a position to accomplish your dreams. You guys are the thinkers. You guys are making the change in the world. That’s who Mr. Pugsley is, all of that and he wants you guys to do the same

What goes on with you and your family when the place is closed over the summer?
We have a blast. We spend all the money. Basically, the day after the seniors graduate, we count the cash. If we have no cash…well, we love New York [laughs].  If we have cash, we take a trip to Italy. My wife has family there. We go there and bring the kids. It’s a lot of fun.

What’s it like being such a special part of Fordham for students?                                    Pugsleys is the reflection of the students. We give back what the students give to us. The love you give is equal to the love we give, you know? It is a reflection of the Fordham University community. The students, the faculty, all beautiful people make a beautiful pizzeria. When the students leave for the summer this place becomes haunted and depressing. During vacation, I come here late at night either to study or play music by myself. Sometimes I’m here until 1 or 2 in the morning and I look around and get a little scared. It’s spooky, like ghosts are around. You guys are the better spirit of this place.

I’m sure you’ve gathered a few funny stories over the years?
Of course there’s a few. Off the top of my head… Well, one time, a kid had to go to the bathroom and he was so messed up and in a hurry. To the point he stripped nude in the restaurant and rushed to go to the bathroom and then his friends hid his clothes [laughs]. Another time, a kid went to the bathroom and fell asleep in there and woke up in the restaurant bathroom in the morning. You guys are funny without trying to be funny.
What’s the most underrated dish in Pugs?
All the dishes get equal love or we take it off the menu. We want all the meals to be up to the same standard and to be always making them, you know? Anything that doesn’t get ordered a lot we’ll take off. If you don’t make something a lot, you don’t make it as well as the other things.
Well, don’t take linguine with clam sauce off the menu for any reason. That’s my favorite.
Don’t worry about that one. People order that. I noticed that’s the most popular with Asian customers that come in here. They love it.
How do you get something on the menu named after you? Like “The Rich Special”?
People just come up the counter and say “Hey, can I have something named after me?” And I’ll say, “Well, what’s your favorite thing on the menu and we figure it out from there.” Maybe. I can’t guarantee it though  [laughs].  
How many linguine with clam sauce do I have to order to get a special named after me?
With a nice smile and if you ask nicely you can get it.
Well, I thought I asked you pretty nicely just now.
[Laughs] We actually don’t have a linguine and clam sauce special. You can do it. What’s your full name?
Rob Falcone.
Falcone! Wow. Do you know who Falcone is in Sicily? Falcone has a big history in Sicily. Ohhh yeah. It’s the name of a famous prosecutor. Giovanni Falcone spent his life trying to take down the Sicilian mafia. It’s a big deal name. You go to Sicily with a name like that- wow!
I have trouble gaining the respect I feel I deserve around here so maybe I should move to Sicily.
Oh that reminds me.
What’s that?
Let me tell you a poem. A Pugsley’s poem. It goes: January 1st, 100 BC. Before Christ. Is it 100 BC? Yeah.
January 1st, 100 BC
I was discovered in the first century by the monkeys
As time went by the men came along
He fell in love with me and then started to eat me
I was so out of sight that a great thought came to him
To introduce, to introduce me to the highest in society
There they name me pizza but I deserve a better name
Test me once and you will call me dynamite!

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What’d you think?
That’s a good poem.
You like that? It’s a good one.
Who’s the better artist, Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin?
Frank Sinatra. He’s got the style, the sound, the rhythm, the lyrics. Dean Martin, I think was like a playboy. He was like more about looks [laughs].


video courtesy of Pugsley’s official Facebook page