Nicola Zappeti, recently released from prison, found himself in Tokyo in the late 1950s with nothing but a notion that Japan needed a pizzaria. And so he cajoled enough friends and acquaintances to provide him with funds to start an Italian restaurant, despite the fact that the only thing he knew about the restaurant business was that he liked Italian food. From nothing, Zappetti created a culinary icon, explains author and old Japan hand, Robert Whiting describes in his book, “Tokyo Underworld – The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan“.
“Nicola’s was still the attraction. It now occupied an entire newly constructed three-story concrete building with forty large tables, two blocks from its original location and a stone’s throw from the opulent new Hotel Okura, modeled after an ancient Kyoto palace and adjudged to be the finest hotel in the world. The restaurant had made Roppongi synonymous with pizza.
“Although Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko had subsequently curtailed their pizza-eating excursions to concentrate on the task of producing an heir to the throne, Nicola’s remained a Who’s Who of Tokyo and international society. On any given night, celebrities in full view might include: Robert Mitchum, Richard Widmark, and Cary Grant, who all filmed movies in Japan; Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Billy Eckstein, and Xavier Cugat on concert tour; and even Ava Gardner, who came to town promoting 55 Days in Peking (announcing that as long as she was in Tokyo she was going to sleep only with Japanese men).”