For Bensonhurst native Tony Muia, the proof is in the pizza – and so is Brooklyn’s history.
Muia, the lifelong Brooklynite who founded A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours in 2005, has taken hundreds of thousands of tourists through the borough on tours that, since then, still begin and end with two of Brooklyn’s most popular pizzerias.
“I was in healthcare for 20 years,” he recounted, “but, in the ‘90s, I got to travel extensively.” As he made his way around the globe, Muia said, one thing became clear: “People are really fascinated with Brooklyn.
“As a proud Brooklynite, I was happy to tell them about it,” he said. Even more so, Muia was happy to be their tour guide when they came to visit. Among the sights to see: The Brooklyn Bridge, the Wonder Wheel and Muia’s favorite pizzerias.
“I started getting this name for myself as the ‘Ambassador of Brooklyn,’” he laughed, “but I was just doing it for fun. Then, by the time I was burnt out [career-wise] and had no idea what to do next, my friends looked at me and said, ‘Tony, you know exactly what to do.’”
And so, A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours was born.
Despite a rocky start (the tour’s original itinerary was to include Lento’s, but, on the morning Muia was set to print brochures, he caught wind of the beloved Bay Ridge eatery’s impending closure), the tour continues to thrive.
To this day, the tour takes ticket-holders to taste what its founder considers Brooklyn’s best Neapolitan slice at Grimaldi’s in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. Later, it heads to Gravesend, for a sample of his favorite Sicilian slice at L&B Spumoni Gardens.
But, since its inception, the Slice of Brooklyn tour has been about plenty more than pizza. In between, the bus purposefully passes some of Brooklyn’s biggest attractions and even makes some stops in what Muia called “bucket list” places like Coney Island.
“I wanted to feed their stomachs but also their minds and their souls,” he said, adding that “to get a full history and a feel of what Brooklyn is really about,” bus riders are treated to a complete audio-visual experience, complete with televisions.
“They help paint a bigger picture” he explained. “You’ve got music, old photos, movie clips — anything and everything to help drive it home. It really helps to point to something when you drive down 86th Street and you’re trying to explain that this is where John Travolta filmed ‘Saturday Night Fever.’”
The tours depart from Manhattan’s Union Square. “You’re talkin’ to someone who’s gotta get to Brooklyn as quick as possible,” he said.
And it’s worked. On any given day, Muia’s buses seat tourists from anywhere from Australia and Germany to right here in the States. In 2007, A Slice of Brooklyn was featured on “The Today Show,” a spotlight, Muia said, that led countless curious customers his way.
“It’s all about creating an easy way for people to understand the food through the borough, and vice versa,” he said, adding that his whole team is made up of Brooklynites. “You’re not gonna get a tour guide from Texas telling you how to eat your slice.
“We’re all proud Brooklynites,” Muia added. “I love where I’m from and the fact that I get to show it off for a living – there’s nothing better.”