Downtown. 82 Wentworth St. 722-PIES (7437)
West Ashley. 1117 Savannah Hwy. 225-4PIE (4743)
Mt. Pleasant. 414 Coleman Blvd. 849-PIES (7437)
James Island. 967 Folly Road. 576-PIES (7437)
It's been a long and winding journey for Michael Rabin, whose homey pizza parlor, Andolini's, has been winning Best New York-Style Pizza since ... well, since before the Charleston City Paper existed (and every year thereafter).
Rabin, a Queens, N.Y., native, first got into the pizza business when he went to stay at his sister's summer home in Old Orchard Beach in Maine and took a day trip to Exeter, N.H.
He'd always wanted to get into the pizza business, and when he spotted an empty place for lease in Exeter, he sold his business (Turkey King) in Atlanta, loaded up a truck, moved to Exeter, and subconsciously picked a name from one of his favorite movies -- which you can probably guess if the names Vito, Sonny, Michael, and Fredo mean anything to you.
About seven months later, he sold the first Andolini's in Exeter and after a brief stop in Philly, he moved back to Atlanta and moved in with Sam, one of the owners of Vickery's.
"Sam said, 'Hey, we're gonna open up a Vickery's in Charleston,' and I said, 'Man, I've never been to Charleston before, I'll go check it out,'" Rabin says. "The second day I was here, I bought pizza equipment, put it in storage, and started looking for a location."
That was in 1991. Sixteen years later, four Andolini's are pepperonied throughout the Lowcountry, with a fifth one opening in North Charleston in the next couple of months. The Rabins are also part owners of Voodoo and Marie Laveau's in the zippy Avondale section of West Ashley. Rabin is quick to acknowledge the most vital aspect of his success: his partner in life and business, his wife Edie, who handles the HR-type end of the business.
"She really helped me out with this whole thing," Rabin says. "She kinda kept me in one place and worked at Andolini's from the very beginning and really kept it going."
It seems perfectly fitting that one of Charleston's most popular family-style restaurants is run by a man whose eyes light up when he talks about how his daughters Emily (5) and Jayda (7) "eat a lot of pizza" and help out sometimes at the restaurant.
But the family affair doesn't stop there. As the youngest of six, Rabin has strong family ties. His brother Neil (the oldest of six) changed careers to join the team after a 20-year stint teaching chiropractics at Life College in Atlanta. Today, Neil makes the pizza dough for all four restaurants, which Michael asserts is one of the secrets to the success of Andolini's.
"Having just one person making it, which is really important -- that really watches the quality of the dough," Rabin says. "And it's our employees, man. We've got great employees. Cooking is really important, how you cook food. And that's our biggest thing, cooking it just right."
Anyone who's picked up a crispy slice or a pie can attest to the freshness of the mozzarella cheese, which the restaurants grate daily, and the perfectly chilled iceberg lettuce in the salads, not to mention the spiced-right tomato sauce.
Rabin "certainly wants to open up more places," and while he's delighted by the idea of having more cool, little shopping and dining areas nestled in neighborhoods around town, who knows where the spinning pie will land next? Rabin's family business was produce, and he mentions that he'd love to open a farmer's market somewhere in the Lowcountry. Whether the fresh produce gets to the public whole or in their lunch specials, Charleston knows that from Andolini's comes happy taste buds.