In Tony Boloney Land, they do as they please

Mike Hauke sells a slice of square pizza at Tony's Farm truck at the Margate farmer's market. He's the owner of Atlantic's City's Tony Boloney.
Mike Hauke sells a slice of square pizza at Tony's Farm truck at the Margate farmer's market. He's the owner of Atlantic's City's Tony Boloney. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 29, 2013

Mike Hauke, the irrepressible owner of Atlantic City's Tony Boloney, seems to be everywhere.

One moment he's behind the counter serving off-the-wall pizzas topped with homemade Mexican string cheese and corn, the next he's selling flatbreads and hand-pulled mozzarella at the Margate farmer's market from his Tony's Farm truck. He's been on national TV, too, most recently Live With Kelly and Michael.

We got AC's dough-slinging dynamo to pause, for just a moment, to share some deep thoughts from Tony Boloney Land.

Question: OK, your name is Mike, so . . . who's Tony Boloney?

Answer: Tony Boloney was a family nickname from an old movie passed down by my great-grandfather to his son, and then eventually from my dad to me. It means "bad little boy," as in, "Hey you little Tony Boloney, why don't you get upstairs and wash your face!" I thought it was a funny name for a business. You can do whatever you want, for right or wrong, and it's all your fault.

Q: Tony Boloney sits at Oriental and Vermont Avenues, two blocks from Revel, and is pretty much the only structure left on an entirely razed city block. How did you land there?

A: My father [Greg Hauke] called me one day and said, "Hey, they're building this casino and you should get into real estate." I wasn't so sure ... but we bought the building together in 2008. How could someone not rent it, with 5,000 construction workers working on this place next door? But sure enough, no one else wanted to rent it out. So after six months I said, "Yo, come on let's do this." Let's just open up a little bodega.

People always say "there's nothing there," and I say, "Exactly. We're in Tony Boloney Land! We do whatever we want to down here and that's the way I like it."

Q: But you didn't initially intend to create the cult pizzeria you have now where everything from the dough to the cheese is homemade?

A: No, when we opened up in June of 2009 with my roommate from college, we were serving frozen chicken fingers, subpar pizza, and burgers. We were running to Sam's Club to buy frozen meat. And we were just doing it to not lose our shirt.

Q: But the shop got noticed nonetheless, apparently, when some high-level casino executives became customers. Somehow that motivated you to turn Tony Boloney's into a much more ambitious project?

A: I shut the store down for two weeks, and revamped the entire aesthetics. I had NO idea how to make a pizza, but I had to figure this out quick. I came up with my own recipe for dough, for all of our sauces, for all of our sandwiches. I figured out how to make fresh mozzarella. We even make our own yeast now. I'm not technically a chef. But I do have a brain, and I know what tastes good. If I'm going to do it, I go all in, and don't pussyfoot around with short cuts.

Q: Conventional you're not. In fact, the "Cheesesteak Olé," which won you Guy Fieri's Cheesesteak Battle in 2010, sounds like it's made backward: You cook the meat and then you marinate it, reheating it the next day like a stew, before mixing it with buttermilk-chipotle cheese sauce.

A: It's definitely not like a traditional Philly steak with distinctive layers of meat and cheese. But I'm not a traditional steak guy, so I wasn't going to try to match that. What you're looking at is one big mess!

Q: I will concede it tastes a whole lot better than it looks. So what I'm wondering is this: Are you just making stuff up as you go along? Or are you actually a culinary genius?

A: That's for you to decide!


Contact Craig LaBan at claban@phillynews.com.

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