Metro

Thousands turn out for a festival that ‘unites through pizza’

Michael Testa flipped a pizza in the air at Saturday’s Boston Pizza Festival.

Nicholas Pfosi for The Boston Globe

Michael Testa flipped a pizza in the air at Saturday’s Boston Pizza Festival.

As temperatures rose in a crowded City Hall Plaza, thousands packed in for the first Boston Pizza Festival on Saturday afternoon. Two dozen pizza vendors — most from New England, some from Italy — had pies and slices available for hungry visitors.

Giancarlo Natale, a 28-year-old from Boston’s North End and the festival’s co-founder, said he was amazed by the turnout, as lines stretched through downtown with some attendees waiting 45 minutes or longer to get in.

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“Pizza literally makes everybody happy,” Natale said. “For me to put smiles on this many people’s faces is amazing.”

For Natale and co-founder Raffaele Scalzi, the festival was a year in the making. Inspired by childhood trips to Naples, Italy, Natale wanted to create a celebration of a food that unifies people.

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“To unite everybody together through pizza is amazing, and it can have an effect on an international and national level,” Natale said.

The experiment was an apparent success. By working with brick oven manufacturer Marra Forni, Natale said he and Scalzi were able to secure 27 brick ovens on the plaza. Visitors from across the Bay State treated themselves to fresh slices and pies on Saturday.

Brad Bahner, 25, of Allston, arrived on Saturday with his girlfriend, who he credited with finding the event. He had tried a slice of pizza from one of the Italian vendors, but planned on sampling much more.

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“We’re going to try to eat as many of them as we can,” Bahner said.

Katie Ginsburg, 16, of Sharon, said her love of pizza drove her to the festival on Saturday. She said she found the festival through Facebook, where around 81,000 users marked themselves as interested in the event and 16,000 said they were going.

“I got added into the Boston Pizza Festival event in January by my friend who knows how much I love pizza,” Ginsburg said. “In its classic, just cheese kind of form, it’s so good, and it can be done so many different ways.”

The festival was another marker in decades in the pizza business for 63-year-old Rosario del Nero. He was the original chef at Bertucci’s when its first location opened in 1981 in Somerville’s Davis Square.

“Bertucci’s has been the pioneer in brick oven cooking in Boston,” del Nero said. “It was just right that we should be here… This is where we belong.”

Bolstered by the apparent success, Natale said he is optimistic that the Boston Pizza Festival will make a return appearance. He noted that while people talk about pizza from Los Angeles or Chicago, fewer discuss Boston pizza — and he wants to change that.

“This is going to be an annual event,” Natale said. “Boston deserves this. We really do.”

Rowan Walrath can be reached at rowan.walrath@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @rswalrath.
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