Polo’s Pizza Built on Rap and Graf
There are layers to the hustle.
Newly married, Polo had to support his future family, and the stock market crash in 2008 certainly didn’t make things easier. At the time, he was working in marketing for Nike during the Japan/Korea Cup. “They called me and said they don’t have any budgets for marketing and events,” he says. “They said next year it’ll be different so he told me to find something other than music.” But Polo wasn’t wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
He decided to open his own booth at the San Gennaro festival to promote his music. Polo was running the booth 24/7, handing out his music all over the streets. “The people in America had never heard Neopolitan rap,” he says. It was only shortly after his booth was running that he was noticed by a someone who would be of great help to his future, and later become his partner, Howard Estrin. “I had my booth right in front of the place where Howard parked his car, and he saw me working seven days a week, 12 hours a day and one day he said, ‘We should do something together, why don’t we do pizza.'”
Five years ago, the pair opened the first Farinella Bakery on Broadway and Worth in TriBeCa. “We knew we wanted to do something different, we wanted to do something that represents high quality.” Ideally, they wanted to create a high-end model for a pizza that could be replicated. “Nobody has that because all the pizza chains in the US stink so I wanted to bring the real pizza here and make it into a chain. We’re still working on that,” he explains.
But Polo still makes time for his passion – hip hop. He used to hold an open mic rap night at Farinella. “It’s hard to believe but there is more real hip hop heads in Europe than the states,” he says. “People acknowledge what the history of hip hop is. There is a big knowledge over hip hop, graffiti, rap music. If you get all the good emcees from the golden age over here they would have a lot of business going on in Europe.”
As a long time emcee who just turned 42, Polo is well aware that we are in an age that is far from golden. “I was in a sneaker store a few months ago and a commercial came on and they were advertising a Kanye West show in Brooklyn with A Tribe Called Quest opening. The 20-something girl who was working at the store goes, ‘Who is A Tribe Called Quest?’ This is New York now,” Polo says with great concern. “Kendrick Lamar is a good lyricist, but I can’t say Kanye West, I’m sorry. His music is like Mickey Mouse,” he laughs. Polo knows EPMD very well. He brought them to Italy for their first tour, and La Famiglia was the opening act. “I definitely would love to do something with Action Bronson.”
“At first, I was over here so I could bring people to Italy, but now people in Italy are coming here,” Polo says. His employees at the pizzeria agree. “Polo is famous in Italy,” says Enrico Sivori, 30, from Napoli. “I had heard of him and knew that he was the kind of person who helps people out. I moved here first, then I saw him all over the Internet.” Enrico is just one of the many Italians that have looked to Polo for guidance and mentorship. “I’m an example for a lot of people because I started from scratch,” Polo says.
When there is a job available, Polo thinks about the people who need it most. “The guy painting my mural [for the new restaurant] is 23 years old and his name is Yarit. He is the last graffiti king. He started when he was a baby. What is there to do for him in Italy? Nobody has money, nobody cares about a portrait.” Polo offers people like Yarit a place to go. “No one cares about anything as good as you are. If I can bring them over here and have them stay at my place and offer them a period of time to live in New York and start working then I will.”
Polo and La Famiglia continue to play sold out concerts in Italy whenever they can. He still gets stopped on the street for autographs and pictures whenever he is home, and after 20 years, they still have groupies. In less than a month, Farinella’s second location will open on 61st and Lexington. As the dough spins, he spices it with his passions. Despite his busy schedule, Polo continues to paint and write lyrics.