The Pizza Insider: October 2015

Search The Pizza Insider

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Behind the Pizza Peel: Al Santillo

Behind the Pizza Peel is a profile series I've been wanting to put together for years. Its goal is to reveal the warm--and sometimes wild--personalities that create America's favorite food on a daily basis. 

Who are the people behind the pizzas, and what made them choose a pizza peel over a briefcase? What's their inspiration and what keeps them going? We find out in this ongoing series.

Behind the Pizza Peel: Al Santillo

santillo's brick oven pizza
Al Santillo


Pizzeria: Santillo's Brick Oven Pizza, Elizabeth, NJ
Age: 58
Years in Pizza Biz: "Born in a flour bag"
Favorite Hobbies Outside of Pizza: "I'm open seven days a week, so my customers are my entertainment."

The Pizza Insider: Why did you go into the pizza business?

Al Santillo: I was born in the pizzeria. My dad used to give the neighborhood kids rides on the dough mixer, which I still use today. I'm the third generation to own Santillo's. My father got sick in his late 50s; I was about 23. He asked me if I wanted the business; if not, he was going to close it down. I knew how good the pizza was and I didn't want it to go extinct. I like the feeling of carrying on the family business.


The Pizza Insider: What do you enjoy most about the pizza business?

Al Santillo: I like when I get visits from friendly people who have a good story or a joke for me, maybe even share a glass of wine with me. I like the extroverted types! I also like to see those who haven't been here in 40 or 50 years and they come back to visit. I even have a couple of customers who are over 100 years old and still come in for pizza!

The Pizza Insider: After a lifetime working in pizza, they can't all be good days.

Al Santillo: The bad days are when the help doesn't show up, the heat or the oven breaks, someone gets hurt, or anything else happens that forces us to have to shut down temporarily. It's sad that over the years I've had to watch so many people around me go out of business. Forty years ago I thought brick ovens would take over America, but little by little I became the only one in the area using one anymore. It's hard work and takes special skills to work, which can be hard to teach.



The Pizza Insider: Are you concerned about an aging customer base?

Al Santillo: When I took over the business from my father, I had WWII era customers, who are now getting older. I'm always looking for new customers to add to the existing ones. The Internet was my salvation when it came to spreading the word about the pizzeria. I use Facebook a lot to post pizza photos and I'm working with the local tourism board in Elizabeth. I'm doing great with out of towners.

The Pizza Insider: Do you have any words of wisdom for new pizzeria operators?

Al Santillo: It's true what they say about location. I got about the worst location you could have--no parking, no sit-down service, and I don't serve liquor. But I'm happy with the way things are; I'm having fun. My whole life is pizza. 

The Pizza Insider: Is there someone ready to take over the oven if you ever decide to retire?

Al Santillo: Not yet.

 


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Behind the Pizza Peel: Roberto Caporuscio


Behind the Pizza Peel is a profile series I've been wanting to put together for years. Its goal is to reveal the warm--and sometimes wild--personalities that create America's favorite food on a daily basis.

Who are the people behind the pizzas, and what made them choose a pizza peel over a briefcase? What's their inspiration and what keeps them going? We find out in this ongoing series.

Behind the Pizza Peel:  Roberto Caporuscio

keste pizza
Roberto Caporuscio, credit: Keste Pizza & Vino

Pizzerias:
Kesté Pizza & Vino, New York, NY
Don Antonio by Starita, New York, NY

Age: 55

Years in Pizza Biz: 18

Favorite Hobbies outside of Pizza: Travel & Photography

The Pizza Insider: Why did you choose to go into the pizza business and what do you enjoy most about it?

Roberto Caporuscio: Pizza is one of my favorite foods and I love interacting with customers. We follow the traditions and methods of the 300-year-old art of Neapolitan pizza making. When I serve a pizza, I'm bringing a piece history to the table. That makes me very proud. 

The Pizza Insider: Looking back on your original pizza goals, how do they match, or differ from, where you are today?

Roberto Caporuscio: I've far exceeded my expectations. When I think back to when I started, I never imagined owning two pizzerias in New York City, the greatest city in the world. And to partner with my great friend and mentor, Antonio Starita, at Don Antonio by Starita, it's a dream come true.
Through my consulting and pizza making school APN America (Association of Neapolitan Pizza Makers America), I've been able to spread the word of Neapolitan pizza making and teach our craft to people from all over the world. This is a big part of what I love to do.

The Pizza Insider: In your opinion, what separates a good pizza maker from a great pizza maker?

Roberto Caporuscio: An open mind and adaptation. The dough is alive and always changing. Pizza making takes place in different environments with different ovens, temperature, etc. You need to adapt to varying circumstances and situations and still create an exceptional product.

The Pizza Insider: Do you have a favorite memory associated with pizza?

Roberto Caporuscio: I have so many favorite memories, but if I have to narrow it down to one I'd have to say when I decided to go to school to study Neapolitan pizza making with my mentor Antonio Starita, and make a career out of it. It was the point that I decided to dedicate my life's mission to pizza. It was life changing.

The Pizza Insider: What has it been like to share your pizza passion with your daughter working alongside you?

Roberto Caporuscio: It's been incredible having my daughter work alongside me. Not all parents and children share the same interests, especially when it comes to careers. I've been fortunate to have a daughter who shares my passion for pizza. We get to work alongside each other at my restaurants and travel together for events and consulting. I'm a lucky man.

The Pizza Insider: When you eat at other pizzerias, what type of pizza do you order and why?

Roberto Caporuscio: Hands down, a Margherita pizza. It's the standard and therefore easiest to compare taste and quality.

The Pizza Insider: Who is your role model or mentor?

Roberto Caporuscio: Antonio Starita

The Pizza Insider: What’s the best advice you ever received?

Roberto Caporuscio: Focus on what I'm doing at my restaurants, don't worry about other restaurants and always try to be the best for my customers. If you concern yourself with everyone else, you lose focus on being the best you can be.

The Pizza Insider: Do you have any words of wisdom for new pizzeria operators?

Roberto Caporuscio: Try to maintain the best quality in everything you do from ingredients to tools, and always try to improve for your customers.

The Pizza Insider: Can you name one thing that you feel will have the biggest impact on the pizza industry in the next five years, and why?

Roberto Caporuscio: The continual explosion of the Neapolitan pizza industry in America. The trend has been on a continual uprise for several years with no sign of slowing down. Neapolitan pizzerias are opening in rural areas and more and more people are exposed to the taste of Neapolitan pizza.

The Pizza Insider: If someone wrote a book about your life, what would it be called?

Roberto Caporuscio: "Life of a Pizzaiolo"


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Behind the Pizza Peel: Mathieu Palombino



Behind the Pizza Peel is a profile series I've been wanting to put together for years. Its goal is to reveal the warm--and sometimes wild--personalities that create America's favorite food on a daily basis.

Who are the people behind the pizzas, and what made them choose a pizza peel over a briefcase? What's their inspiration and what keeps them going? We find out in this ongoing series.

Behind the Pizza Peel:  Mathieu Palombino

 
Motorino
Mathieu Palombino, courtesy: Motorino


Pizzeria:
Motorino: NYC, Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore

Age: 38

Years in pizza biz: 7

Favorite Hobbies Outside of Pizza: riding my motorcycle

The Pizza Insider: Why did you choose to go into the pizza business and what do you enjoy most about it?

Mathieu Palombino: I opened in 2008, which was a difficult time for restaurants.  I had to do something that I loved, but would also have a chance to succeed. Pizza was the answer. A pizzeria has a purpose in its neighborhood. 

The Pizza Insider: Looking back on your original pizza goals, how do they match, or differ from, where you are today?

Mathieu Palombino: When I opened the first Motorino in Williamsburg, I was just hoping it would become a popular neighborhood joint. I did not expect it would get the attention that it did. If you asked me seven years ago, I would never have thought that I would be opening new locations as far away as Hong Kong. Today, I hope to keep that momentum going and bring Motorino to new places. 

The Pizza Insider: In your opinion, what separates a good pizza maker from a great pizza maker?

Mathieu Palombino: A good Pizzaiolo has a recipe on hand and experience managing a pizza station and working an oven. A truly great pizza maker has knowledge in baking and understands the science behind a great dough.

The Pizza Insider: When you eat at other pizzerias, what type of pizza do you order and why?

Mathieu Palombino: I’ll try anything that sounds interesting, but I stay away from pears, peppers, and onions. I like the pizzas light in toppings and with a good dash of Tabasco sauce. 

The Pizza Insider: Who are your role models or mentors?

Mathieu Palombino: I don’t have a "pizza mentor," necessarily. However, I admire Anthony Mangieri’s style of pizza making, and I love the pizzas of Napoli: charred, soft, pliable—delicious.

The Pizza Insider: What’s the best advice you ever received?

Mathieu Palombino: Happy wife, happy life.

The Pizza Insider: Do you have any words of wisdom for new pizzeria operators?

Mathieu Palombino: Get organized with the FDA so you can import your own olive oil and tomatoes from Italy. You’ll save the commission and you’ll be giving your money directly to the grower. There is no mystery about where your product is from. Plus, you get to visit Campania once a year!

The Pizza Insider: If someone wrote a book about your life, what would it be called?

Mathieu Palombino: Living the Dream in America