Biz, Beats & Arts — A Spotlight on Rockaway’s Unsung Heroes: Whit’s End Proprietor Whitney Aycock

 Biz, Beats & Arts — A Spotlight on Rockaway’s Unsung Heroes: Whit’s End Proprietor Whitney Aycock

By Kami-Leigh Agard

 Who are some of Rockaway’s unsung heroes? The businesses, bands, performers and artists that keep Rockaway alive all year long—even during the brutal winter months. In this bi-weekly feature, read about the entities and individuals who make the peninsula and Broad Channel one of the best places in NYC to live, dine, jam and enjoy the arts in all its forms, and exemplify why we should support local all year round.

In this week’s installation, learn more about the man behind the colorful moniker, “Pizza Nazi,” Whitney Aycock, creator of Whit’s End. A 2015 article in “The Village Voice” about Aycock, adroitly described him as “Choleric and lovable in equal measure.” Like legendary comedian George Carlin, Aycock has garnered the reputation of being “the dean of counterculture,” not reluctant to dryly drop a few F-bombs. However, Aycock is hook-line-and-sinker passionate about his respective art of haute cuisine, refusing to surrender to conformist notions about what and how he should serve food. To again quote The Village Voice article: “Cantankerousness aside, Aycock gives a f***k.”

For those who are wondering—yes, Aycock attended culinary school. At Paul Smith’s College in upstate New York, he received a degree in Culinary Arts & Hotel Restaurant Management, plus, he also attended East Carolina University. In the following Q&A, get a bird’s-eye view of another side of Aycock, whose nostalgic childhood memories of food with his mom and dad in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Atlanta, GA and the Outer Banks of North Carolina—propelled his passion to forge a career in the culinary industry, where he honed his craft at five-star food and hospitality establishments. However, along the way he made it his mission to pay it forward to others, while remaining true to himself—straight up, no chaser.

RT: Who ignited your love affair with food?

WA: My parents. My mom was an airplane stewardess, so, I got to fly super cheap to places all over the world and got to spend vacations with people who had restaurants and hotels. Plus, while growing up in Jamaica until I was age nine, my dad, originally from Tennessee, was a chef and ran restaurants. Then we moved back to the U.S., where we continued enjoying fond memories around food. Even if I was a bad kid, I was still having good food. However, even at a young age, observing my mom and dad, forever burnt in my memory was hard work.

RT: Your menu is constantly changing. What’s your thought process when you’re curating your menu?

WA: There’s so many different things to cook with different ingredients, ideas, varieties. However, again, it’s memories from dining with my parents. Memories of something that brings back even just a smell of a spice. Also, having dinner somewhere where I’m like, “I can make this better.” And of course, seasonality like with seafood is a huge factor.

RT: You’re also an avid fisherman. How does that come into play in your menu?

WA: What drew me to Rockaway over 20 years ago was being in Mother Nature, yet still in the city. Fishing is like my peace of zen. So, what I catch from tuna, shark and more—plays a part in what I serve—nothing is fresher than boat to table.

RT:   Why did you open a business and make Rockaway your home?

WA: Moving to NYC for a career in the restaurant industry, I started to feel disenfranchised with the increasing cost of living and concrete jungle lifestyle in Manhattan and later Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Even before Sandy, I used to come to Rockaway just to fish. Then I just woke up one day, and realized that though I wanted that NYC thing, I couldn’t live in the realm of so many shadows, so I moved to Rockaway to be near what I missed, the ocean.

RT: How do you feel about being called, “The Pizza Nazi”?

WA: Like with everything in life, there’s stages. When I first opened the first shop, where Playland was located, I had to really sell myself and say, “This is what I’m offering. F**k you, if you don’t like it.” Being an individual, standing up for your product and however loud you had to be to let somebody know. I didn’t have any money to do any marketing. I just opened the doors and said, “Come on in.” The “Pizza Nazi” name began when I said no slices and didn’t make people’s version of a “normal” pizza. It took a lot of effort for me to stand up for that and not bend to everyone’s will of what was deemed traditional. So, when I stood up for myself, I think somebody coined the phrase, “Pizza Nazi,” and it took off. Plus, there’s assumptions out there about me. You are who you are, and you don’t have to explain yourself to everybody.

RT:During the pandemic, many businesses in the restaurant and hospitality industry struggled and shuttered. What was Whit’s special sauce that kept you open?

WA: Being an individual, slight nonconformist, right? You have to stand up for yourself. What was I going to do? Close? No. So, you have to reinvent yourself again. And I wasn’t the only one going through the pandemic struggle. Sadly, I got fined for a lot of what I did, but that’s okay too. I stood up for what I believe in. The community and neighborhood needed that sense of normalcy. It wasn’t just about my business, people were at home going crazy. So, I took risks and paid the consequences. Some paid off, some didn’t, but I have no regrets.

RT: So how do you think the receivership has been with locals and people just coming off the beach?

WA: Respect for the old, while bringing something new. When I first moved to Rockaway, I met so many people both in the winter and summer riding my bike. I never wanted to do a cookie-cutter sort of thing. Rockaway is a hodgepodge of everything for me.

RT: Why is it crucial to support a local establishment, especially during the lean winter months, to keep Whit’s End and others open all year round?

WA: We need to have variety as a neighborhood and community. Even me, I patronize other businesses. Paying it forward is a self-leveling thing. I wouldn’t be where I am if somebody didn’t do something for me at some point in my life or career. It’s about opening a door for someone else.

Whit’s End is located at 97-02 Rockaway Beach Blvd. To check out the menu and for more info, including opening hours, follow on Instagram: whitsendrockaway, on Facebook: Whit’s End, visit: or call: (718) 945-4100.

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