Ahem, "spoiler alert." If you're not caught up on Breaking Bad, you might want to get that way before reading further.
There's no way around it, Breaking Bad fans: It's almost over. On Sunday, September 29, AMC will air the final episode of the acclaimed drama, drawing to a close the saga of high school chemistry teacher-turned meth kingpin Walter White, as portrayed by Bryan Cranston. Since the show's start in 2008, it's slowly and patiently built its case for the "Greatest Television Show of All Time," with creator/writer/showrunner Vince Gilligan expertly guiding a stellar cast through a thrilling, often excruciating exploration of human ego. It's racked up numerous Emmys (it was awarded "Outstanding Drama Series" Sunday night) and other awards along the way, and earned a "universal acclaim" rating on Metacritic.
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Throughout the whole thing, Gilligan and co. have dotted the bleak Southwestern landscape of the show with black humor: the wisecracks of scummy lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), Danny Trejo's dismembered head saddling a turtle, and of course, the infamous pizza-on-the-roof shot in the third-season episode Caballo Sin Nombre.
Eagle-eyed viewers and fans of Valley pizza joint Venezia's Pizzeria probably noticed a familiar logo on the pizza box in that scene, and it wasn't the only time Venezia's was featured on the show. Turns out the Phoenix pizza joint has roots in Albuquerque, where the show is shot and takes place.
Venezia's "originated in Albuquerque," explains Domenick Montanile, owner of four Venezia's in the Phoenix area. "My father started it in 1978, in a town called Rio Rancho, which is like a suburb of Albuquerque. I moved out here to go to ASU, and that's how I ended up opening the stores out here. My dad retired, and my cousins -- Renato and Aldo Venturino -- worked with him [in New Mexico]. We've all worked together since we were young, and they basically wanted to open a pizza place as well. They asked my dad to be partners and use his name, so they opened there as well, as Venezia's. We all use the same recipes; my dad started it, and he's been partners in both [areas]."
Apparently someone on the Breaking Bad staff dug the pies at Venezia's ("We're true Italians, man, parents straight off the boat -- first generation," Montanile says of the pizza's tasty authenticity). They delivered to the set occasionally, took take-out orders, and provided empty boxes to the crew. But one day the Venturinos got a call for 10 of the restaurant's massive party pizzas.
"The film crew, they were always picking up pizzas, that sort of thing," Montanile says. "One day they came to them and said, 'Hey, we need to buy 10 party pizzas.' They don't really say why -- because they're not allowed to and that sort of thing -- but my cousin knew something was going on; so that was the first scene we were featured in, when [Walter White] threw it on the roof."
Though Breaking Bad-philes know the lore -- that Cranston somehow managed to get that pizza on the roof perfectly in the first take -- Montanile has even more behind-the-scenes gossip.
"The first time they got the pizzas from them, there was a miscommunication," Montanile explains. "Either they forgot to tell them not to cut [the pizzas] or they cut them by accident, but they picked up like 10 pizzas and they were cut, so they had to go back and get 10 more because in the episode, it's not cut."
So that's 20 giant party pizzas that went toward Cranston nailing it in one take. The scene, however, led to some confusion for Venezia's customers. In the shot, the pizza is clearly whole, not cut into slices. Though it makes sense in the writing room -- scattered slices rotting in the sun makes for a much less a powerful image than a whole pizza -- it doesn't make much sense reality-wise.
So writers expanded on the fictional Venezia's of the Breaking Bad universe in season 4, when a distraught Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) hosts a meth-fueled bacchanal in his house, orders a couple more Venezia's party pizzas, and his bumbling buddies Skinny Pete and Badger have to figure how to cut the unsliced pizza. (Skinny Pete: "Maybe it's, like, democratic, bro, you know? Cut your own Christmas tree, cut your own pizza.")
Montanile said the scene resulted in lots of calls from concerned customers about whether or not the pizzerias in Albuquerque and Phoenix cut their pizzas, but he doesn't mind. Being part of the Breaking Bad world has only helped the pie chain.
Though he's more of a sports guy, Montanile loves the show, and he was super excited to see the pizza-toss scene featured on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Though the series did reference another Albuquerque pizza joint as well, Pizza 9, it's Venezia's that is most associated with the show.
"I've had people from New York email us through the website and they want us to send them a pizza," Montanile laughs. "Cause they're like, 'We want to try your pizza because you're on Breaking Bad.' They want us to ship it with dry ice and all this stuff. We're not really set up for doing that. We're not ready to do that, but we've had two inquiries on that."
The chain has embraced the Breaking Bad love. It's ran Sunday night specials and regularly calls out Breaking Bad fans via its social media accounts. "It's a huge benefit to be on a show like that," Montanile says. "They take care of the local shops out there [in Albuquerque]. You see a lot of local stuff on the show."
The show's relationship with the pizzeria culminated with an actual name check in Ozymandias, the third-to-last episode of the series, which Montanile says was thrilling, minus one tiny catch. Skyler White, played by Anna Gunn, botches the name of the pizzeria.
"It's Va-net-zia's, and she says Va-nee-zia's," he laughs. "Yeah, unfortunately, that's one of those things people pronounce incorrectly. It's hard to say."