Kamil Sahin recently struck up a conversation with a customer and her 7-year-old daughter while their pepperoni pizza was in the oven.
She began to tell him that Filippo’s Famous Pizza over the past 51 years, including the last 31 with Sahin and his wife Sharon Noebels-Sahin as the owners, has been the favorite stop for four generations of her family.
Then the woman told Sahin that she has instructed her daughter that if she ever finds herself in danger around George Street, to head straight to Filippo’s, because it’s a safe place where she will be watched over.
“It made me proud when she said that,” he said. “It made me feel more respectful. It made me feel that good people still exist. It made me feel good. That good reputation makes you feel more proud ... work more, be respectful.”
A lot of restaurants slip the word “famous” into their name, but Filippo’s is one of the few that can pretty darn well live up to it – at least around these parts. After all, the Sahins have donated over the years an untold number of pies to be scarfed down at youth athletic league banquets, library events, police-sponsored programs, and other gatherings around New Brunswick.
The Sahins have been longtime supporters of Elijah’s Promise and have even given employment opportunities to a few young men from the State Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s Joseph Kohn Training Center on Livingston Avenue.
So, this quaint restaurant at 336 George St., with its round storefront window tables, natural stone flooring and trademark Mediterranean seascape mural, has become a landmark of sorts.
It’s where Kamil’s dry sense of humor (ask him how his wife is doing and he’s apt to deadpan, “Which one?”) is as much part of the experience as the piping hot pizza served right out of the brick oven.
It’s where Jay Leno opted to eat when he was in town a few years ago. The Vienna Boys Choir, too. It's where illusionist David Blaine once made a few slices disappear, so to speak.
It’s where people, when they go back home to places like Minnesota, or move to Tennessee, call up and ask Kamil if he can ship a few of his pizzas to them. (Don’t bother, it’s not possible).
The pizzas – even the 28-inch signature Monster Pie - are made with fresh ingredients and whole-milk cheese. And, this might sound cheesy, but lots of love, too. You might call it the secret ingredient.
Kamil and Sharon have been married since 1994. They met dancing. He complimented her on her moves but said he wouldn’t dance to the fast music. On cue, a slow song suddenly came on.
“To this day, I think he had something to do with it,” Sharon said.
They complement each other. She laughs at his jokes. He refers to her as his beautiful wife.
Kamil does the cooking and preparing of the fresh ingredients. She used to add the decorating flair to the dining room and front window on holidays like Valentine’s Day and Christmas. Sharon, who worked for years as a special education teacher, has had to take a step back since being injured on the job.
To make matters worse, things have been tough since COVID-19 hit in 2020. It’s been a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances that have forced business to plummet by 85%.
The 300 or so Rutgers employees who filled the offices in the building across the street are mostly working from home. And all those Johnson & Johnson employees who used to stop in for lunch? They seem to be working from home, too.
The county court system has been slow to return to in-person hearings. The bus line that used to drop people off right in front of Filippo’s no longer stops here.
Until the foot traffic returns and business picks back up, the Sahins are maintaining big smiles and hopeful hearts.
“Some of our friends say, ‘Just sell,’” Sharon said. “But, you’ve got your whole heart and soul in it. He’s been here longer than the original owners were here. And even though he knew everything, he worked and got from the ground up. But because of his experience and really good taste and knowing his customers, tweaking recipes and changing dough recipes and making the fresh dough, this is really his heart and soul.”
Story & Photo By: Chuck O'Donnell