By Fabian Sandler
Some cities are famous for iconic sites, like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Others are known for their arts. The Boston Philharmonic comes to mind. Some cities are known for a specific cuisine. It is said that Austin, Texas, is famous for its tacos, while Philadelphia lays claim to the Philly cheesesteak. Chicago has its deep dish pizza, but New York City points to coal-fired pizza as their own creation.
RC Gallegos is interested in bringing famous pizza to town. He is the owner of RC’s NYC Pizza & Pasta.
“I opened my first RC’s fifteen years ago, off of FM 1314 in Conroe. That was the origination of the concept;” RC explains. The Kingwood location has been open for ten years, with a newer location on Sawdust Road in The Woodlands.
“We are about to open a franchise,” RC relates. “We sold a franchise. It’ll be opening the beginning of May.” Opening franchises has been RC’s plan. “It’s taken me longer than I expected, but I’ve always wanted to have franchises.” The franchise will be located in New Caney, in the new strip center at the intersection of Highways 99 and 59.
The business model that RC has been able to develop over time makes for great franchising potential. “That’s where I see the best growth,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed the last sixteen years. I’m married to it. It becomes part of your life. If you don’t like people and don’t enjoy what you do, it’s not for you. I’m hoping to concentrate on the Houston market first, open up five in the Houston market, before going outside of Houston. I want to control the growth. We have a franchise group now, we manufacture and sell dough commercially to other restaurants and sports bars. I’m super excited about seeing the growth coming. It’s what I love to do, owning restaurants is my landing point. I love to conceive something, put it together, set it free, let it operate, come back and tweak the little things that need to be worked out, step back again and watch it do what it’s supposed to do.”
He has paid his dues in learning his craft. “I’ve worked in restaurants all of my life, never cooking though, always up front, bartending, waiting tables, all during undergrad and grad school,” RC states. “When I got out of college and went into corporate America, I enjoyed it. It was fun, but I felt that working for someone else had a low ceiling. I was in Dallas at the time, matriculated at the University of Texas at Dallas. I moved here to help my parents with one of their businesses that was failing. After eight months, it was doing better, so at the one year mark, I was bored and had a lot of time on my hands.” The owner explains that his parents owned a building next to the business he helped turn around. He mentioned his desire to open a restaurant to them. “They wanted to jump on board. It was a matter of choosing between pizza and barbeque. I went with those two because those two cuisines in my opinion are foods that people get fanatical about. They build homemade brick ovens in their backyard and the barbeque guys make a smoker out of a filing cabinet. People get really excited about these two foods.”
Although RC had never been a cook, he tried his hand at making pizza during a six month stint when he was nineteen years old living in El Paso. “I went to a buddy of mine who cooked briskets for our friends at the parties we had and asked him if he’d show me how. He always had great briskets. I went to his house one day. It was five o’clock in the evening and he started rubbing down the meats, and we were having fun talking. Next thing he said was, ‘All right, we’re going to smoke this meat for fourteen hours.’ And I said, ‘I’m out!’”
Having worked with pizza for those six months, he approached the pizza restaurant’s owner. “It was the best pizza I ever had in my life,” RC attests. The owner sold RC the recipes. He opened a five hundred square foot location on FM 1314. The place had no air conditioning, no tables. It was pick-up and delivery, like a pizza express.
“I became good friends with a guy from New Jersey, Daniel Saccone, who owned pizza restaurants in Austin. He came to support me on opening day, bought a pizza, took a bite out of it, put it down and said, ‘RC, please don’t do this. You’ll be shut down in four months. This is horrible!’” RC laughs. Daniel challenged RC to go to New York, try their pizza there, and learn the craft and secrets of New York-style pizza. RC took the plunge. He tried as many different styles as he could get while in New York. He stayed eleven months. “I was able to live it, eat it, breathe it, and ask questions.” He came back in due time, closed the restaurant he had, revamped the menu, and reopened with New York product. “The close-down and transition was about four to five days. I needed to develop the recipes from what I had, tweak them. Dan was involved in the process. The sauce was too thick, too thin, too much pepper – he really gave me direction.”
In March 2009 RC went to his first pizza expo in Las Vegas. “We won first place, with a plain cheese pie, no ingredients. You could put up to two toppings. It was a limited, traditional competition. The judges were beside themselves about the dough, the crust. It was all they could talk about. I was like, ‘Wow, this is my pinnacle!’ I’ve played with the product since then, no major changes on the pizza side of it.
“That’s the history of where we are,” RC continues. “We still compete to this day. Last year, 2017, we won three different awards, one in March in Las Vegas, for traditional pizza again; one in Atlantic City in October, for gluten-free pizza. That’s our new claim to fame. We have this phenomenal, airy, fluffy, puffy crust that is gluten-free. The third win was at the Barilla Pasta competition. We won second place in that.”
RC grew up in El Paso, but he and his parents moved to the area, where his folks opened up an agricultural feed store. “I’m a city boy. When I left being a sales and marketing director for a manufacturing company when I got out of college – that was my first job – I came back to run the feed store.”
RC’s NYC Pizza & Pasta has become a household name in the area. “All the people in New Caney, Porter, Splendora, know about us because of our 1314 location,” RC intones. The Kingwood and The Woodlands locations have increased his following of loyal patrons over the years.
RC’s wife, Arely, is incalculably helpful with running and working the restaurants. RC has one son, Kennedy, who is thirteen years old. They are members of The Woodlands Church and St. Martha’s Catholic Church.
Jorge Margos is the cook who can put on quite a show when he flips the dough into the air and catches it. “He’s phenomenal,” beams RC. “Kids come and look from around the corner; he’ll just take off and throw the dough around like he’s a Harlem Globetrotter.” The restaurant employs eighteen people, including seven cooks.
“If it wasn’t worth having, I would take it off the menu,” RC states, when talking about the food that is served. “Ninety-eight percent of the recipes on the menu were developed based on my time in New York. Yes, we have Italian food, but they’re New York-Italian recipes. What definitely stands out is pizza. Yes, we win awards with our pasta, and yes, we’ve even been awarded with our chicken wings here in 2014, but our pizza is what really gets you. I’m not just into selling food. I’m into selling that experience, and that’s how I’ve felt about it for a really long time.
I know when I walk into someone’s house and they’re cooking yams or sweet potatoes, it takes me back when I was ten or twelve years old, distinctly remember walking into our little apartment with our mom and she’s making yams with the marshmallow atop, and it’s all brown and roasted, and I think, ‘Oh gosh.’ That’s what I think of. To me, that’s how we all are. We identify with our senses, and food is a huge part of family. Family gatherings, it’s all about food. I wanted to give people something to identify with. We operate in Texas; however, we are an authentic New York style pizzeria. When you walk into either one of my restaurants, you will hear accents, New Yorkers and Yankees, you’ll hear, “Oh man, this is like from back home!’ They’re reminiscing, as much as they love not shoveling snow, they miss certain things. That’s what I was really looking to sell, to capture those memories and help take people back to that time.”
The restaurant is located at 1202 Kingwood Drive. Restaurant hours are 11 AM to 9 PM Sundays through Thursdays, and 11 AM to 10 PM Fridays and Saturdays. The phone number is 281-358-GOOD (4663). The website is www.rcsnycpizza.com.
Unlike Philadelphia, Chicago or New York, Kingwood is not particularly known for a food. Yet.