Andrew Bellucci. Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland

The pizza chef Andrew Bellucci died suddenly yesterday. According to his business partner Matthew Katakis, the chef came into their Astoria shop, Andrew Belluci’s Pizzeria, around 7:30 p.m. yesterday — cooking a couple of clam pizzas for a board member from City Harvest — when he suddenly collapsed. Katakis says that Bellucci’s heart rate was at “hyperspeed,” and that he was instructed to administer chest compressions until EMS arrived. The chef was eventually pronounced dead at Mount Sinai Hospital; he was 59 years old.

“I met him as a stranger, and he became my family,” Katakis says. “I told him we were going to write a new chapter and work together and build up his name. I’m his biggest fan. You know, I gained ten pounds since we opened last year.”

Raised in New Jersey, Bellucci was a “pizza-maker’s pizza-maker,” according to Scott Wiener, who runs Scott’s Pizza Tours, and had an accomplished but complicated career in the industry. He first came to prominence at Lombardi’s, a reboot of the historic pizzeria, where he demonstrated both his talent for pizza and his charisma.

However, his time at the pizzeria was cut short two years later, when he pleaded guilty to 54 counts of fraud (from his time at a New York law firm) and served 13 months in jail. He stayed out of pizza for the next 16 years, driving cabs in the city, until going to Kuala Lumpur to open restaurants. There, he got back into cooking pizza, went to China in hopes of opening more pizzerias, and, after those plans had fizzled, returned to New York to run the kitchen at Rubirosa, a gig that only lasted a few months.

In 2021, he opened a shop, Bellucci Pizza, in Astoria with a local businessman named Leo Dakmak, and was, at long last, back in the thick of it. (This span of his life was also the subject of David Shapiro’s documentary Untitled Pizza Movie, which explores loss, memory, and gentrification in New York through Bellucci.)

Within a year, however, the partnership devolved into a bitter squabble, and Bellucci left to open a new shop in Astoria with Katakis. The fight went legal in June 2022, when Dakmak sued Bellucci over trademark infringement, unfair competition, and defamation. The lawsuit was settled in December, and any legal troubles seemed to finally, Wiener says, be put to rest.

“I think that once he got into this current place, and now that the lawsuit has ended, the only thing about him has been the pizza,” Wiener adds. “I really feel like he was at the top of his game.”