‘Down the shore’ pizza wars

March 7, 2012 – Residents living in the southeastern Pennsylvania area, who go “down the shore” (area speak for vacationing at one of the beach towns in southern New Jersey) are probably aware of the friendly, yet competitive pizza wars on the boardwalks.

In Ocean City, N.J., for example, the battle for best pizza was once fought between Mack and Manco and Prep’s. The clear winner judging by the long lines that formed outside of its three boardwalk shops was always Mack and Manco.

The original Mack's in Wildwood opened in 1953

In Wildwood, N.J., a few beach towns further south, the pizza wars are fought between Mack’s and Sam’s. Again, the crowds favored Mack’s two locations over Sam’s.

Mack’s and Mack and Manco actually create the same famous thin crispy pizza vacationers have come to love. Tony Mack and Frank Manco, the ones who started it all, are first cousins. The Mack family opened Mack’s Pizza in 1953 on Wildwood’s Boardwalk, and partnered up with the Manco family in 1956 to open Mack and Manco in Ocean City.

The new Manco and Manco. Thankfully, just the name has changed.

Those pizza wars have taken a drastic turn, kicking aside their competitors’, Sam’s and Prep’s to battle it out with each other in an action that has the Mack and Manco families are acting more like the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. A few months ago the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the name “Mack was officially dropped from a moniker that has been around since 1956, and the pizza shops are now called simply Manco and Manco.”

According to Chuck Bangle, who co-owns the pizza chain with his wife Mary and her parents Frank and Kay Manco, the two entities decided to go their separate ways. No one knows – or at least no one will talk about whether the split was amicable, but Mack’s will continue to be a favorite on the Wildwood boardwalk, while in Ocean City, Manco and Manco will continue to rule.

Would there be a change in flavor or in recipe with Manco and Manco Pizza? I did a little investigative work over the weekend to find out. My plan was to have lunch in Wildwood, and dinner in Ocean City, and compare the two. Unfortunately, Mack’s in Wildwood was still closed for the season, so I made the best of my time and wandered about the eerily empty streets taking in the famous art deco landmarks that made Wildwood famous.

The deserted Wildwood boardwalk

The familiar pink awning means it's time for Laura's Fudge, a Wildwood and Ocean city staple.

The art deco styled motels in Wildwood are plentiful. They just look a little strange against the empty streets.

When I reached Ocean City, I was met by crowds on the boardwalk, and inside the 9th Street location of Manco and Manco, which is open year round.

Two slices and a birch beer. I'd actually ordered one, but they brought me two and I didn't complain.

I’m happy to report that Manco and Manco the pizza tasted the same – not that I really doubted it would. They’d be crazy to mess with a famous and popular recipe. I tried to pry information from the men behind the counters about what really happened in the pizza feud, but like good employees, they stuck to the script and told me the families simply decided to go out on their own.

One thing was for certain. The diners in the shop didn’t seem worried about the name change. Every table was taken, and the lunch counter was practically full. I found several groups like me who drove in from Philadelphia just to have a late lunch. After I left, I walked the boards before heading home.

The Ocean City Music Pier, over looking the Atlantic Ocean.

The crowd on the Ocean City boardwalk. Not bad for a chilly March day.

Shrivers Salt Water Taffy, an Ocean City tradition since 1896.

The moral of this story is that a name change doesn’t always affect the quality of a product. Mack’s will continue to be enjoyed by the folks visiting Wildwood, and Manco and Manco will feed those who flock to Ocean City. It’s just sad the pizza wars that were once friendly competitions between vendors happened from within, and probably broke up a family.

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