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Sunnyside, TikTok and the 7 train: The story of how a new pizza star was born

Philomena’s Pizza owner Dave Acocella in his Sunnyside shop. (Courtesy of Dave Acocella)

March 14, 2023 By Tammy Scileppi

They say that the universe is all about random events. 

An unlikely friendship between two Queens residents — a popular TikToker and a hardworking pizzeria owner — would lead to an interesting collaboration and a new TikTok video. The inspiring outcome will surprise you.

Pizza-maker Dave Acocella met Kenny Bollwerk during a livestream of the social media creator’s New York City walking tour on TikTok, back in April 2022. While Bollwerk was riding the No. 7 train and sharing his adventures with his followers – showing them how to get from Queens to Midtown Manhattan, in a video called “How to take the subway to Times Square” – Acocella, who owns Philomena’s Pizza at 41-16 Queens Blvd., in Sunnyside, happened to be watching the video and invited the TikToker to stop by. 

Acocella was hoping that Bollwerk would review his tasty pies.

Pizzeria owner Dave Acocella (left) with his buddy, tiktoker Kenny Bollwerk at Philomena’s Pizza, in Sunnyside. Courtesy Dave Acocella

Bollwerk told Queens/Sunnyside Post that he quickly accepted the unexpected invite. In fact, all the comments by viewers watching the video from places like Dallas, St. Louis and around the country, also convinced him to check out that pizza joint. And even his dad encouraged him to go.

“So, I turned around at 33d Street and came back to Philomena’s, at 40th Street, to try the pizza,” Bollwerk recalled. “I was in awe. it was delicious! Dave and I hit it off right away and he let me film behind the scenes, to show all my TikTok fans what it was like to work at a pizza place.” 

Philomena’s Pizza in Sunnyside (Courtesy Kenny Bollwerk)

A Forest Hills resident with St. Louis, Missouri, roots, Bollwerk had created his TikTok page (TikTok @nyc_kb) to document many interesting NYC experiences.

“I wanted to share my perspective of the city and give tourists an idea of what to expect when visiting New York,” he said. “I post a lot of NYC tips and tricks, and highlight small businesses that need support [like Philomena’s], while also making honest food reviews about the locations I visit.”

Before his chance meeting with Acocella, the ambitious young creative had just quit his job in higher education, deciding to pursue social media, instead.

As his TikTok evolved, Bollwerk began to take requests from followers to show them different neighborhoods around all five boroughs, with some fans even meeting up with the popular Big Apple aficionado when visiting NYC and sometimes asking to join him on tours. 

After the pizza-maker and the TikToker became friends, they decided to join forces and create a new video.

They even hosted a “Pop-up Pizza Day” for other TikTokers to sample Philomena’s delicious slices. Bollwerk, who ranks it “the best pizza in NYC,” said the event, which took place on May 16, 2022, had come about because the St. Louis Cardinals were playing the New York Mets at Citi Field. “Since I am a Cardinals fan and Dave is a New York Mets fan, we thought it was the perfect event to hold, to try and put his pizza shop on the map,” he explained. “We had a good crowd show up that day and started the momentum on TikTok, as new people started to come in, saying they saw us on social media.”

Courtesy of Dave Acocella

The pizza guy, who has since hired his buddy to help out when he’s short-handed, said he was very grateful that in return, Bollwerk helped him build his own TikTok brand (TikTok @daincrediblepizzaguy) to support his growing business. 

It seems everything happens for a reason.

“I credit my dad for telling me to turn around and get off in Sunnyside, because I was planning on getting a burger in the city,” Bollwerk shared. “If I didn’t stop that day, who knows if I ever would’ve met Dave.”

The popular TikToker enjoys filming new neighborhoods every day and continues to take requests from his fans.

“There are so many incredible areas in Queens,” he said. “I love Sunnyside because of the quick access to the 7 train, which can take you to the city and all the nearby Queens neighborhoods, and because of all the great people I’ve met from hanging out at Philomena’s with Dave. I like so many different neighborhoods because of the food and, of course, the people. Once you get to meet the people behind the scenes, that’s what makes social media so great!”

Courtesy of Dave Acocella

Recounting how his collaboration with Bollwerk came about, the small business owner, who has lived in Sunnyside for 25 years, told Queens/Sunnyside Post, “It’s crazy how I found Kenny! I was trying to find the girl who sings underneath the subway – who I found out later, is Raquel Reigns on TikTok. What a voice! But then I saw the 46th St., No. 7 subway stop on Kenny’s video and got excited to see something so familiar and so close. I asked him to come back to my pizzeria, and since then we’ve been great friends!”

He added: “Kenny is a good person, a really genuine guy. He saw me struggling, so he wanted to help. He also helps other small businesses like mine and is using TikTok as a platform to get them noticed and help them stay in business. What a kind gesture. He’s got a heart of gold.” 

These days, Bollwerk takes his livestream walking tour to his buddy’s now-famous pizza joint, and noted that countless tourists, as well as local New Yorkers, have been following their journey. Eventually, the two amigos hope to open pop-up pizza locations around the five boroughs, and even in different cities around the country.

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