Before you eat another slice of PIZZA on a student tour, you need to know…

I do love pizza! Coming from an Italian American family from the Bronx, we take our pizza seriously. When I get together with my cousins we literally talk about pizza for about 30 minutes and then show each other pictures of pizzas we've had since we've seen each other last. It's only then that we move on to other important subjects, like: how are the kids?, how's work?, how's life? So, yeah, we take our pizza seriously.
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Before you eat another slice of PIZZA on a student tour, you need to know...

“Pizza” Mike Ruggieri spills the beans on pizza!

I do love pizza! Coming from an Italian American family from the Bronx, we take our pizza seriously.
When I get together with my cousins we literally talk about pizza for about 30 minutes and then show each other pictures of pizzas we’ve had since we’ve seen each other last. It’s only then that we move on to other important subjects, like: how are the kids?, how’s work?, how’s life?  
So, yeah, we take our pizza seriously.

However…, sadly, pizza and student tours in Washington DC don’t mix well, because most of the pizza places we take students, in my opinion, aren’t great pizza places. To be honest, most places we take large groups of people to eat aren’t the best places to go if you’re a foodie.  

It’s not a secret, it’s a hard reality.  Feeding 120 8th graders in 45 minutes is a feat in and of itself. Quality food is another matter entirely. I will not reveal names to protect the innocent.  But, if you’re a guest on one of my tours and ask me about the quality of the food, I will never talk bad about it.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
 
However, I *do* get to satisfy my pizza cravings while working in DC during student tour season.  The company I work for puts me in hotels in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, VA.  There just so happens to be one of my favorite DC pizza places between the hotels and the DC Metro (subway).  I quite often stop there on my way to or from meeting my groups.  

If I were to open Google Maps on my phone right now, and say “Hey Google, how many times have I been to Wiseguy Pizza in Rosslyn?”, I’m not sure I would want to know the answer, and it’s probably more than even *I* would want to admit!
 
Interestingly enough, there’s a salad place next door to Wiseguy Pizza, but if I walked in there, my phone might ask “Hey Mike, What the #&$^#?”
While leading tour groups in New York City, it pains me that I have to pass all my favorite pizza places, mostly because they aren’t big enough to handle tour groups.  
 
But, whenever I can — and sometimes it’s after midnight, once the group is settled into their hotel after their Broadway show, and the night security is in place — I immediately head to my favorite pizza slice in Manhattan. 
 
Joe’s at Broadway & 40th opened a couple of years ago, bringing their “best slice of pizza in NYC” claims from their original location of 40+ years, in Greenwich Village (I agree with their claims), to Times Square, which, coincidentally is where my tour groups stay!  

We literally stay 4 blocks away, so it’s not a hard decision to make, even after a 15+ hour day.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to Joe’s for a late night slice (I prefer the white slice – try it, you’ll love it!) with the teachers or parents who have been asking me all day about my favorite NYC pizza.
 
It’s too bad the students don’t get to enjoy it.  However, while they have their free time in Times Square, I always tell them about it, so some of them do get to experience the quintessential NYC slice of pizza. It brings me joy (and a little tear to my eye) when I hear them tell me it’s the best pizza they’ve ever had.  I think to myself “this is why I’m here”.  
 
Never mind the history, the museums or the architecture.  Pizza is the main attraction that New York City offers for so many people. OK, maybe not the *main* attraction.  Top three for sure! Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Pizza? Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rockefeller Center, Pizza? Empire State Building, Broadway, Pizza?  Yeah, sounds right to me. 😀
So since I’ve babbled on for so long, let tell you my last pizza anecdote.  

After 6 years of *not* taking tour groups to great pizza in NYC (because most places can’t handle the large groups), last June I saw “John’s Pizza” on 46th Street on my itinerary for Valley Center Middle School.  My heart skipped a beat because John’s on Bleecker Street happens to be my favorite pie in Manhattan (to clarify, Joe’s is my favorite place for a slice, John’s is my favorite place for a full pie. John’s doesn’t sell slices).
 
Whenever I visit NYC for fun, it always includes a stop in Greenwich Village at John’s on Bleecker, followed by a slice at the original Joe’s around the corner on Carmine Street. Yes, that’s how I roll.  
 
So… when I saw John’s on 46th Street on my itinerary, I was intrigued.  I had walked by it many times, but just figured it was another NYC Italian Restaurant that served pizza. You can’t swing a dead cat in NYC and not hit a decent Italian Restaurant and/or Pizza place.  So, I came to find out that not only is John’s on 46th Street (officially known as John’s Times Square) run by the original John’s daughter, it has an area that can handle groups!  
 
So, this school had about 40 students and a few adults and we were crammed into their ‘group area’ and the menu consisted of salad (I’m not sure why you would eat salad when you have NYC pizza in front of you, but whatever) and PIZZA.  And I have to tell you, the pizza was excellent.  
 
Was it better than John’s on Bleecker?  That’s debatable. I can tell you that I thought it was just as good.  I’m so happy this is an option for tour groups in NYC that I hope to see it on more itineraries.  I was recently looking at my upcoming tour schedule and when I saw Valley Center Middle School on my schedule, I instinctively started craving John’s Pizza.
 

Life is good when you get paid to eat NYC’s best pizza with 40 of your new best friends. 

“Pizza” Mike Ruggieri

ITMI Class #285 | ITMI Instructor

In 2013, I decided that 28 years of sitting in a dark room and talking about software was getting old. I wanted to pursue a career that would get me out of the cubicle and allow me to meet fun and interesting people. This led me directly to ITMI and tour directing. Soon after graduating, I found myself leading a tour from the Grand Canyon to Mount Rushmore, and I’ve never looked back! I’ve been working as a Tour Director in the National Parks as well as leading student tours on the East Coast for several years now and not a day goes by when you won’t hear me say: Best. Job. Ever.

Leading student tours also provides me with a joy I didn’t expect. It’s something that teachers experience and is extremely rewarding – when the student ‘gets it’ and the light bulb goes off on their head – there’s nothing quite like it. I love sharing these wonderful places with students, and seeing them anew through their eyes. I instilled a love of travel in my own children, because I believe that experiencing new places and cultures is the world’s best classroom.

Teaching at ITMI has allowed me to continue this wonderful journey and share my experiences with others who have made the same choice as me – to get out of the cubicle and start doing something you love. There’s really nothing quite like it.

I also love working with ITMI grads, helping them navigate their new careers. It’s a real joy to see their successes.

When I’m not traveling, I’m usually pursuing my other passions: spending time with family, finding the best pizza or going to see my favorite band. That’s me in a nutshell. Family, food, music and travel. I’ll see you down the road….

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