What do a man from Argentina, the Westhampton Beach Fire Department and pizza all have in common? The answer: Michael Araujo.
One year ago, the Westhampton Beach resident combined his lifetime of restaurant experience, his involvement with the fire department and his love of pizza to open Firehouse Pizza, a new business on Montauk Highway in the village.
Mr. Araujo, a local fireman since 2004, explained that he had amassed an overabundance of firefighter memorabilia in his home and was running out of space for his collectibles, so he decided to put them to good use. He says he was inspired to open a firehouse-theme pizzeria after visiting other theme restaurants while on vacation in Florida.
“We put it all together and this is what you see,” Mr. Araujo said during a recent interview inside his establishment.
Firehouse Pizza is the only place in Westhampton Beach where pizza lovers can order specialty pies such as the “Haz-Mat Special” (an “everything” pizza featuring sausage, meatballs, peppers and onions), a “3 Alarm Pie” (featuring bruschetta primo), and “White Smoke” (white pizza). The business is located at 196 Montauk Highway and is open 11 a.m. until 10 p.m., seven days a week.
Though he is in the pizza business, Mr. Araujo’s roots are not traceable to Italy. In fact, he was born in Spain and raised in Argentina. However, Mr. Araujo asserts that Argentinean food has heavy Italian influences.
“Argentina has some of the best pizza,” he said. “The pizza is unbelievable.”
As a child growing up in Argentina, Mr. Araujo explained that his family ran a bread store. After opening Firehouse Pizza, he said he would often experiment with different dough recipes. After many months, he finally decided on the secret recipe that is used in the pizzeria today.
Mr. Araujo explains that it’s the freshness of the ingredients he utilizes that gives his dough its distinct flavor. “I don’t save anything,” he said. “Everything is fresh every day.”
Another unique aspect of Firehouse Pizza is its inclusion of wheat crust pies on the menu. “That’s my wife,” said Mr. Araujo, referring to his wife of 28 years, Gina. “She put me on a diet,” he added, explaining that a wheat crust has fewer calories and fewer grams of carbohydrates than a regular crust.
In addition to working at the family business back in Argentina, Mr. Araujo, who arrived in the United States in 1969 and settled in Westhampton Beach about 20 years ago, boasts restaurant experience. He ran the restaurant within The Swordfish Club on Dune Road in Westhampton Beach for the 2003 and 2004 summer seasons, and R.J’s Country Fare on Second Avenue in Manhattan from 1981 to 1987.
He explains that the biggest difference between running a restaurant and a pizzeria is the amount of customers seen daily. The high volume of customers at Firehouse Pizza often forces Mr. Araujo to spend up to seven days a week at the business. “It gets crazy in here,” he said.
Ron Shadiack of Westhampton Beach, who stopped by the business for a slice recently, said the pizza sold at Firehouse is the closest you can get to Manhattan pizza. “They say a slice of pizza’s integrity is measured by its ability to stand on its own when held out,” he said. “And their pizza stands on its own.”
The village pizzeria is embraced by fire departments from as far as Dansville, Virginia, and a firehouse patch from that outfit is prominently displayed, along with the patches of many other fire departments, on the back wall of the restaurant. The eatery also features firefighter hats, miniature fire trucks, and old fire hoses. Mr. Araujo says other firemen appreciate the decor of the restaurant because it expresses the pride and honor associated with being a firefighter.
“When you become a fireman, you are a fireman forever,” said Mr. Araujo, who was named “Firefighter of the Year” by Westhampton Beach in 2005.
Firehouse Pizza is a family business, owned and operated by Mr. Araujo and his wife. Their 16-year-old son, Derek, can often be found behind the counter and is also featured on the large mural that adorns the inside of the pizzeria.
A junior firefighter with Westhampton Beach, Derek said that working at his father’s business can be both demanding and rewarding. “On one hand, I’m very busy,” Derek said. “On the other, I’m getting great experience and learning how to manage a business.”
The couple’s daughter, Christie, 25, also contributes to the decor of the restaurant from as far away as Santa Cruz, California, where she currently lives. The large mural in the shop featuring Derek and members of the Westhampton Beach Fire Department was painted by Christie. She presented the painting as a gift to her father upon the opening of the pizzeria.
Mr. Araujo’s oldest daughter Lia, 27, lives in Manhattan and also contributes by commuting to Westhampton Beach to work behind the counter during the weekends in the summer.
“As you can see, I am a very proud parent,” Mr. Araujo said.
He and his family are now preparing for summer, their second in operation in the Hamptons. “Last year was our first year, so we didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “But this year, we are ready,”