Last month, Steve Cohen’s Village Pizzeria celebrated 20 years on Larchmont, serving the neighborhood lunch and dinner seven days a week at 131 N. Larchmont Blvd.
Cohen, who grew up in Brooklyn, tells the story of how he started the restaurant, saying, “When I moved to San Francisco in 1979, the only thing I really missed was my favorite pizza. The local “neighborhood” pizzerias of my childhood back in Brooklyn and Queens made San Francisco’s pizza seem pale by comparison.”
But then Cohen found Village Pizzeria on Steiner Street in San Francisco, and it soon became his home away from home.
“I would hang out there with my friends after softball, and it was like being in the pulse of the community,” said Cohen.
In 1994, Cohen changed careers and bought a Village Pizzeria on Clement Street in San Francisco. A few years later, he decided to move with his wife and two young kids to Los Angeles’ Hancock Park, a neighborhood he discovered during his years as a clothing rep. While he was opening the business in LA , Cohen’s wife stayed behind trying to sell the San Francisco business and spent most of the year sleeping on a friend’s sofa before joining him in L.A.
Cohen developed a menu that aims to please, offering customers two kinds of crust (thin or thick), with all his sauces made from scratch, and sausage and meatballs using what Cohen calls ‘special’ house recipes. All the pizza dough is also prepared daily, using fresh yeast and allowed to ‘proof’ (rise), which results in a true baker’s crust.
In 2008, Cohen operated another Village Pizzeria on Yucca Street in Hollywood…but closed it in 2015.
“I was fortunate, I had a good product,” said Cohen. “We started out as a take out and then went through all the city regulations to become a legal restaurant with a permit to sell wine and beer.”
Not surprisingly, Cohen has a few things to say about the current rules governing the zoning of Larchmont Blvd. He’s seen a lot in his twenty years on the street and cares deeply about the community of customers he’s built over the years. In fact, just yesterday, Cohen tweaked the Buzz with a photo of trash left in the alley from the Farmer’s Market, hoping we can help get the market organizers to do a better job of clearing away the trash.
Twenty years is a long time to be in the restaurant business and even longer to be a successful business on Larchmont Blvd. On Sunday, we overheard someone at the Farmers Market say, “Wow, businesses change here so fast,” when they walked by the now empty space occupied by Pinches Tacos, where a small handwritten sign says, “Coming Soon: Larchmont Vintage Clothing.”
A huge booster of the street, Cohen is the first one to welcome a new business or celebrate an event on the street. When Jeni’s Ice Cream opened last month, Cohen came over with a pizza to introduce himself and welcome Jeni to the street.
Cohen is also well known for his generosity to local charities like Big Sunday, Covenant House and Vista Del Mar.
“We can’t donate large dollars, but we can donate food to help people behind the scenes,” said Cohen, who usually donates pizza for the monthly movie night at Covenant House. “We are always trying support David Levinson, Big Sunday and the volunteers,” explained Cohen. “This helps me set a good example for my kids.”
He’s deeply grateful to his family and staff and works hard to give back to the community whenever he can.
“My credo has been, ‘I can’t give you a discount but I can give back to the community,'” explained Cohen. “If you support me, I’ll support your efforts in the community.”
Cohen also has a special interest in helping young kids.
“I could have gone down the wrong road,” explained Cohen, saying he definitely has a place in his heart for those who made the wrong choice. “I got in some trouble, but I got chances when I got to that crossroads and turned the right way.”
Recently Cohen shared the story of Jimmy Valdez, a young man he met in Hollywood when Cohen has his restaurant on Yucca. Valdez explained how he got his own second chance when a gun he pulled on someone jammed instead of firing, saving the man’s life and saving Valdez from a murder charge. After serving time in juvenile detention, Valdez wanted to improve his life and give back to the community. When he got married last month, instead of hosting a reception for his 125 guests, Valdez and his new bride and a small group of guests went to a local shelter to feed the homeless. And when Cohen found out about it, he insisted on supplying all the food.
Cohen can often be found on the sidewalk in front of his restaurant, catching up on the local news with his customers and passersby. He’s the eyes and ears of Larchmont and evidence of the enduring value of a well-run local business that serves the community with a good product and a passion for the neighborhood.
As he would say, “All we are saying is give a piece a chance…”