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Glen Rock, NJ

Glen Rock, NJ


Favorite Part of a Slice of Pizza:

The story behind it

In 2019, Azie launched Women in Pizza alongside her friend and colleague, Casey Derk, initiating a grassroots social movement that transitioned into a non-profit dedicated to honoring the strength, resilience, and impactful stories of exceptional women in the pizza industry. During her onboarding at Orlando Foods, where she is the Director of Marketing, she became aware of the Women in Pizza Power Hours held at the Pizza Expo and promptly questioned why such recognition was limited to just one hour annually.

Recognizing Orlando Foods’ aspiration to provide a platform celebrating women in the industry, she a movement that not only amplified women’s voices but also created opportunities and opened doors for them. In a world where gender equality remains an ongoing endeavor, she sought to establish a beacon of inspiration, embodying the essence of transformative change.

In her role as Director of Marketing at Orlando Foods, Azie has united her two greatest passions: storytelling and the world of food. Her life is a never-ending quest for stories, whether diving into the pages of books, getting lost in the magic of films, exploring new horizons through travel, or savoring the artistry of food. She finds her greatest joy in the company of friends and family, where new stories are born with every shared moment.

Social Media Coordinator


Glen Rock, NJ

Glen Rock, NJ


Favorite Part of a Slice of Pizza:

The first bite

In her role at Orlando Foods, Ally has been responsible for facilitating creative social media content strategies, audience engagement and account analytics for our imported brands to the US. In today’s digital age, Ally is committed to leveraging social media to achieve brand goals, loyalty, and growth for Orlando Food Sales.
As the Social Media Coordinator for Women in Pizza, I strive to foster a vibrant online community where women in pizza can connect, learn, and grow together. From highlighting the achievements of female pizzaiolas, promoting monthly live IG interviews and sharing resources about our non –
profit organization, my goal is to continue to spread awareness about our mission to empower and support women in the pizza world.

Digital Marketing Associate


Glen Rock, NJ

Glen Rock, NJ


Favorite Part of a Slice of Pizza:

The air bubbles

Dina joined Orlando Foods in the summer of 2023 as the Digital Marketing Associate and soon became interested in the Women In Pizza Movement. Having experience working in the nonprofit industry, specifically animal rescue, Dina was excited to get involved and began working on all things Digital for WIP. During college, she worked for an Italian bakery where her love for Italian culture and cuisine (Neapolitan pizza!) really grew.
She is passionate about fundraising, planning events, and finding ways to engage and inspire others through the power of marketing. In her free time, you can find her enjoying a coffee at a café, traveling, or exploring the newest food experience nearby.

Graphic Designer


Glen Rock, NJ

Glen Rock, NJ


Favorite Part of a Slice of Pizza:

The crust

Julia joined Orlando Foods in 2022 as a Graphic Designer after graduating summa cum laude from Ramapo College of New Jersey with a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communication Design. Whether it’s designing marketing materials, editing photos, or creating custom graphics, she enjoys getting to spend every day doing what she loves with an amazing team.

Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her cats, thrifting, and crocheting.

Owner/Master Pizzaiola


Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh, PA

ANNA CRUCITT grew up working at a gelateria founded in 1999 by her parents Rick and Linda Mercurio. In 2005, she graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelors degree in Marketing and Italian.

Her love for Italian food and working in the service industry led her to open Mercurio’s Artisan Gelato and Neapolitan Pizza with her siblings in Pittsburgh in 2012. Anna was trained to make Neapolitan pizza by her brothers, Michael and Joe Mercurio, who are both Master Trainers of Neapolitan Pizza.

To her, the most fascinating part of making pizza is science behind the dough and its ongoing evolution. In the spring of 2019, she became a Women In Pizza Ambassador. As she has grown in her pizza experience, Anna was recognized with a 2nd place award for her gluten free pizza at the Caputo Cup in 2019. In her spare time, she enjoys making pizza and gelato at home with her husband and three little girls.

Owner/Master Pizzaiola


Boulder, CO

Boulder, CO

Audrey Kelly is the owner/pizzaiola of Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage in Boulder, CO.  After receiving her degree in journalism, she traveled through Italy for an internship and returned to San Francisco with a new found love and respect for the craft of pizza.

While in San Francisco, she worked at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana.  There she worked under her mentor, Tony Gemignani, who laid the ground work for her journey into the world of pizza.  After returning to her hometown of Boulder, Audrey opened her own pizzeria with her brother, Peter.

Since opening in October of 2015, the Pizza Garage has been featured in numerous publications and even on the Food Network.  Audrey is also a member of the World Pizza Champions and an Ambassador for Women in Pizza.

Blogger/Founder/Master Pizzaiola


Dallas, TX

Dallas, TX

You might know me from Fairfield, CT’s beloved BRICK + WOOD or as the original owner of Cavalli Pizza in Dallas, TX. I enjoy making people happy through my food, and bringing people together over a meal, sharing good times and creating memories.

I am a mother, wife, food lover, chef, creative thinker, recipe creator, and entrepreneur. My kitchen expertise focuses on the area of Pizzaiola, Chef and Baker with a specialty in Gluten Free. I am an Ambassador for Women in Pizza. I have over 15 years of experience as a successful restaurant owner, during which I was awarded Best Pizza, Best Italian Restaurant, Best Restaurant and more, in Connecticut and Texas. I believe in hard work and passion. I always make sure I am providing the highest level of quality and service. My belief is if you truly love what you are doing you will be successful. My motto is “Love Life (and Pizza).”

As a first generation Italian-American, I am thankful for all the sacrifices my parents made for myself and our family. Their guidance, love, discipline, and teachings have made me the person I am today. I love my heritage and am proud to be Italian. The love of cooking and gardening… taking from the earth and making delicious meals is what I enjoy the most. Italians pride themselves in using what nature provides to create amazing healthy dishes. They call it peasant cooking I call it Perfection! There is no better meal to provide your family than one that was made from scratch using only the freshest ingredients.

The traditions that were taught to me, I am now teaching my children so that they continue on for generations to come.

Love Life and Pizza… An Italian Lifestyle Blog is where I will teach you all those traditions and how to live LA DOLCE VITA (the sweet life) as Italians do! So, follow me on this journey where we will learn, laugh and have fun together…through food and culture.

Owner/Master Pizzaiola


New York, NY

Don Antonio New York
New York, NY

In 1990 in Terracina, Italy, Giorgia Caporuscio was born into a Neapolitan pizza-making family, following in the legendary footsteps of her father. Primed for pizza greatness, Giorgia moved to Naples where she entered into a lengthy and comprehensive training internship with some of the best and renowned Pizza-Makers.

Among her many accolades, Giorgia made pizza history when she was awarded first place in the “Classic Pizza Category” at the 12th Annual International Pizza Competition in Naples, Italy- the youngest of only two women to ever win first place in this category. Giorgia Caporuscio has proven that exceptional pizza artistry is not only in the skill, ingredients and passion; it’s also in the DNA.

  • Graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education in 2019 in Restaurant & Culinary Management
    • Ambassador of “Women in Pizza”, movement that empowers women in the pizza industry
    • Ooni-Portable Pizza Ovens-Brand Ambassador

Giorgia has been mentioned in:

  • Zagat 30 under 30; Atlanta 2014
    • Guest/Host with Scott Wiener at 92Y for: Conversation about Pizza!
    • Fox5 – Pizza Class, AM New York, Mulino Caputo ‘Una Pizza per l’estate’,, Pizza Today Magazine,, Eater, LucianoPignataro Blog, Italy Magazine, Sole 24ore, NY Post, CBC Passion for Pizza, Pizza Therapy Las Vegas Pizza Expo, Edible Manhattan.

Owner/Master Pizzaiola


Berkeley, CA

Berkeley, CA

Born and raised in Hayward, California, Laura Meyer’s first job was working at Pyzano’s Pizza, her local pizzeria. At just 17 years old, the pizzeria was where Laura met her mentor, Tony Gemignani, and her career as a pizzaiola began. After high school, Laura went to earn her Bachelor’s Degree, when she discovered her passion for culture and food while studying abroad in Italy. Upon graduating, Laura moved to San Francisco to take the helm at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana as kitchen manager alongside Tony himself. With Tony, Laura honed her skills in fermentation and perfecting more than 10 regional styles of pizza.

In 2013, Laura took her competitive spirit back to Italy where she won first place in her first competition in Parma, Italy, becoming the first woman and first American to win the Pizza in Teglia category. The following year, she won Best Non-Traditional Pizza at Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. In 2019, she won first place at the Caputo Cup in Naples, Italy for Best American-Style Pizza, once again becoming the first—this time winning in a newly created category in one of Italy’s oldest pizza competitions. Throughout her tenure at Tony’s, Laura’s rising success earned her recognition as SF Chronicle’s Rising Star Chef, an Eater Young Gun, and one of Zagat’s 30 Under 30, and was named Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2016.

Amid the pandemic, Laura dipped her toes into the waters of entrepreneurship, opening Focaccia da Laura, a focaccia pop-up. Given the success and prospects of Focaccia da Laura, Laura made the decision to depart Tony’s wing after nearly 20 years to open Pizzeria da Laura in Berkeley, California.

Owner/Master Pizzaiola


Windsor, CA

Windsor, CA

Leah Scurto started making pizza in 1997 while she was attending college in Santa Cruz Ca. She has competed in pizza culinary competitions across the United States and Italy. Leah has won a number of competitions including 3 national championships.

She currently owns and operates PizzaLeah in Windsor, Ca. Since opening in March 2020, Pizzaleah has been included multiple times on the San Francisco Chronicle’s list of the 25 Top Restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area.  In 2022 Leah was featured on Hulu’s original show, Best In Dough.

Leah loves sharing her passion for pizza and is dedicated to being a small business owner that works with and promotes other small businesses.

Founder/Master Pizzaiola


Portland, OR

Portland, OR

Miriam Weiskind is the founder, and head pizzaiola of The Za Report, is one of the founding pizza popups hailing from NYC and is currently taking up residency in Portland, Oregon.

Miriam temporarily moved westward to bring her passion and art in pizza making to Portland. For the past 4 years, Miriam has been doing restaurant takeovers and pop-ups throughout NYC.

In 2020 Miriam traded the corporate life as a creative director to study the art of making pizza, with a goal to create something truly magical for the pizza community.

Prior to embarking on a career as a pizza maker, Miriam spent about a decade in New York’s Pizza Community helping build the brand behind Scott’s Pizza Tours educating thousands of pizza lovers behind the history and science behind pizza.

Inspired by her mother, who passed away from COVID in 2021, Miriam decided to give back and do good within her community. Baking over 5,000 pizzas during the pandemic in a 350’ Brooklyn apartment, the pizzas were given out for free to help New Yorkers who didn’t have a job or were needing a reason to smile.

Miriam’s “paying pies forward” became a global phenomenon—written up by the New York Times, Forbes, Thrillist, Food & Wine, covered by VICE, featured on Hulu’s Best in Dough, appearing on Good Morning America, and The Today Show.

Most recently Miriam competed on The Food Network’s Chopped and was written up in the New York Times by Pete Wells as “one of the best pizzas to eat in NYC”—both her Neapolitan and Sicilian styles.

For her Neopolitan-ish pizza, Miriam spends 4 days preparing her dough whereas her Sicilian take 7 days to make each pie. They truly are a work of love and art.

When not making and baking pizza, Miriam spends time training ultra trail running and is a proud mom to her pup Frankie Jo Buttons.

Owner/Master Pizzaiola


Houston, TX

Houston, TX

Nicole was born and raised in Houston, Texas and currently owns and operates two pizzeria locations with her family in Houston. She has 7 years experience in Napoletana pizza making (trained by her father who was certified with Pepe Miele in 2010). After 3 years in the industry, she went to The International School of Pizza with Tony Gemignani in San Francisco to study American style pizzas. Since certification with the school, Nicole now serves both Detroit and New York style pizzas.

“My focus is to create and maintain authenticity of each medium of pizza as they are specific to their region.”

In 2018, Nicole was awarded the rising star award in the International Pizza Expo Caputo Cup.  Nicole plans to continue learning and perfecting her craft in pizza and bread making with anticipation of additional locations and restaurant concepts.

Owner/Master Pizzaiola


Rockaway Beach, NY

Rockaway Beach, NY

Last Dragon Pizza  –Pizza with a kick! is a Limited Service, word-of-mouth, online pizza business, owned and operated by Pizzamaker, Nicole Russell. Inspired by the 80’s cult classic film, “The Last Dragon,” Last Dragon Pizza serves spicy NY Style influenced whole pizza pies and dishes named after memorable scenes of the film.

Often a NYC bucket list for pizza enthusiasts nationwide, Last Dragon Pizza is dedicated to providing its customers the adventure of having a fun, memorable pizza experience. The only way to “FIND THE PIZZA MASTER,” is to visit its website, join the mailing list and place the order online.  Last Dragon Pizza’s weekly pickup location is divulged only after the order is placed. Then, and only then, do you get,  “THE GLOW,” — the ultimate theme of the film.

Nicole Russell started making pizza during Hurricane Sandy. She refined her self-taught pizza skills serving pizza to the construction workers on her block after the storm just to say, “Thank you.” The construction workers soon became customers, and eventually, repeat customers; spreading the word to others in the neighborhood. As the demand for Nicole’s pizza increased, in 2014, Nicole came up with the Last Dragon Pizza concept to officially start selling her pizza from home in The Rockaways. In 2016, Nicole researched and developed Last Dragon Pizza’s frozen pizza product, Little Dragons, and currently ships personal frozen pizza nationwide.

Before Hurricane Sandy, Nicole was a Freelance Multimedia Producer by day and a nightlife promoter for a landmark restaurant in the Meatpacking District by night. She earned a Multi-Media Design Certificate from NYU School of Professional Studies.  Nicole also has a background in Corporate Sales.

When her life seemingly slowed down due to the circumstances surrounding the storm and family life, pizza making pulled Nicole through very difficult times. Once she realized there was a real opportunity to create a new path for herself, Nicole used her knowledge of sales and coupled it with her graphic/web designing skills to produce an e-commerce website and develop a social media marketing strategy for Last Dragon Pizza.

After years of figuring out her unique business model — creating a database of repeat customers and building a solid social media following — in 2017, Nicole used her proof-of-concept evidence to enter and win the top prize in the Queens Economic Development’s 2017 StartUP! Business Plan Grant Competition. Continuing with her winning streak, two months later, Nicole won second place in the NYC Small Business Services Business Pitch Grant Competition and was a finalist in the 1010 WINS Business Pitch Grant Competition.  Nicole used her winnings to formally incorporate Last Dragon Pizza, complete food safety certifications and invest in pizza making equipment to become one of a few woman-owned mobile pizzeria; expanding her stationery business model to a pop-up business model.

Featured in TimeOut NY, The Daily News, The NY Post, and popular pizza enthusiast blog sites such as Scott Pizzas Tours, both Nicole and her business, Last Dragon Pizza, continues to gain popularity and notoriety in a male dominated industry.  In 2019, Nicole was a featured Chef on Season 2 Episode 2 of Amazon Prime’s “Instachef,” produced by Thrillist. Most recently, Last Dragon Pizza was named, “…unofficially the best in show,” by NPR for its infamous, top-selling 7TH Heaven – Tandoori Chicken Masala pizza slice at the New York Pizza Festival.

Nicole is committed to her pizza life and the success of her business. Currently, Last Dragon Pizza is the only black-owned pizza business certified by Minority Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) and NYC Department of Education in NY. Personally, Nicole is determined to become a certified Master Pizzaiola. She will start competing internationally in 2020; with the hopes of when asked, “WHO’S THE MASTER,” just like in the climactic scene in the film, “The Last Dragon,” she can confidently answer, “I AM!”



Morristown, NJ

Morristown, NJ

Owner/Operator of Coniglio’s Old Fashioned in Morristown, NJ. Pizza influencer on Hulu’s Best in Dough; Collector of all things pizza.

Married to 10-time world pizza champ Nino Coniglio; Mama to Penny, Host of Supremely Dressed at the International Pizza Expo & lover of all things cheesy!

Founder/Master Pizzaiola


Seattle, WA

Seattle, WA

Stephanie Swane is the publisher and editorial director of Modernist Cuisine’s in-house publishing department The Cooking Lab since 2014. She develops and leads new publishing projects and partnership opportunities. She brings over 25 years of experience working on book publishing, global sales & distribution, brand management, foreign rights, production, and licensing to the team.

In 2017, the award-winning Modernist Bread was published. In 2019, the translations of Modernist Bread in French, German, and Spanish, were published. In 2021, pizzaiolis around the world embraced, Modernist Pizza with translations of Modernist Pizza in Italian, French, German and Spanish published in June 2022. In 2023, Food & Drink The Photography of Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold was published featuring photos shot over the last decade.

For the last decade, she has traversed the globe to help the team research bread, pastries and pizza from every imaginable angle. Stephanie has met with experts in baking, milling, agriculture, production, history, fermentation, equipment and ingredient manufacturers, and beyond. She regularly attends industry workshops and conferences that cover all aspects of baking, from commercial production to cereal science.

Prior to joining Modernist Cuisine, Stephanie worked with publishers that include becker&mayer!, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Putnam, Reader’s Digest Children’s Publishing, and Golden Books. She has worked with diverse groups of global brands, retailers, wholesalers, and licensors ranging from CBS/Paramount, Disney/Lucasfilm, Fox Entertainment, Hasbro, NBC/Universal, and Warner Bros. to Amazon Publishing, Barnes & Noble, Costco, Indigo, Target, and Williams-Sonoma. She holds an M.A. in media studies from The New School in NYC and a B.A. in art and a B.A in art history from University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Stephanie was honored to recently contribute an essay to The Washington Women’s Cookbook: Good Eats and Votes for Women in 2020 featuring a collection of recipes, essays, profiles, interviews, and art from Pacific Northwest women

Stephanie is a committee member for the 2022 & 2023 KCLS Foundation Literary Gala and a board member for the KCLS Foundation –

From 2021 to 2023, Stephanie was part of the IACP Cookbook Awards Executive Committee in a variety of roles from Super Judge, Judge and lastly IACP Cookbook Awards Chair.

Stephanie is the host of over 50 hour long episodes of Women in Pizza IG Lives highlighting the amazing and inspiring pizzaiolas from around the globe and the moderator for Women in Pizza panels in US, Canada and UK.

When not working on the next Modernist Cuisine project, Stephanie can be found in her Seattle garden and greenhouse. True to her Dakota farming roots, she enjoys growing exotic and native vegetables and fruits, including varieties of grains and tomatoes. She loves all things fermentation—from beer brewing to pickling.

Stephanie is also an active member of AACI, ACF, AIB, BBGA, Bakers Against Racism, Cherry Bombe Squad, IACP, Maine Grain Alliance, Northwest Editors Guild, Northwest Science Writers Association, Parabere Forum, Women in Hospitality, PNBA, and Women in Pizza.

Founder/Master Pizzaiola


Vancouver, CANADA

Vancouver, CANADA

Owner/Master Pizzaiola


Los Alamitos, CA

Los Alamitos, CA

Meet Blair Pietrini, the owner of Pietrini Pizza Napoletana (@pietrinipizza) in Los Alamitos, CA.

Opening a pizza restaurant didn’t originate as Blair’s dream, it was her husband, Gene’s, but she was a driving force in turning it into a reality. “I’m still wrapping my head around that fact that this is my life now.  My husband was so absolutely passionate about pizza. He grew up in Chicago, and his cousin and uncle owned a little pizza place in a strip mall with the quintessential red leather booths that did a huge takeout business.  Gene loved any opportunity to head back into the kitchen and throw some dough and make a pizza. It was so obviously his happy place.”

After graduating college in San Diego, California, (where they met) Gene and Blair married in 1980 and had three children, a girl (Nicole) and two boys (Taylor and Landon). Gene worked as a financial planner and later served as a pastor for over 30 years. During these years, he never lost his love of pizza, or his dream of owning his own pizza place.  “He was a meticulous planner, and I was the risk-taker. Every now and again I’d ask him, “Are you ever going do this?” And he’d say, “Yes, I HAVE to do this”, but so many people who have dreams never pull the trigger, so I said, “Ok, I’m going to keep nudging you.”

Blair never stopped encouraging Gene to live out his dreams. “Being a risk-taker, I didn’t want to come to the end of our time saying “We could a, would a, should a. I’m good with it if it doesn’t work, but I’m not good with us not trying.”  I’d wake up some mornings at 1 or 2am and he would be looking at his phone researching cheese or tomatoes, and I’d think, ‘this is not normal, just do something already.’ He was waiting for the time to be just right, (and we all know it seldom ever is) so I continued to nudge him along because I saw the joy that it brought him.”

When their daughter Nicole was born in 1983, Blair bought Gene a square pizza stone from William Sonoma. That eventually led to a pizza oven in the backyard, then years later a portable Ooni. “Twice a month we would have 6-10 people over for pizza night and my husband would hardly visit with them. Instead, he’d go outside and just keep making pizza.  Friends of ours have an Italian restaurant and they thought his pizza was really good, so they agreed to let us do 4 pop-ups at their place when they were closed. We had live music and charged $25 for three hours of “all you can eat” pizza. At home he’d make 12 pizzas a night and now we were making up to 120 in 3 hours! That experience really helped push him to the next level and gave him a little better understanding of what having a restaurant would be like. Our restauranteur friend recently revealed to my son and I that they had invited us to “pop-up” hoping it would discourage us from following through on this “pipedream”. They told us that they had strongly advised Gene NOT to open a restaurant (due to the difficulty and low success ratio of the restaurant business).

This plan actually had the opposite result, as Gene just kept his head down, pumping out pizza after pizza and found the experience exhilarating! What was meant to discourage Gene, only lit a fire under him even more.

Blair realized the risk of pursuing this dream. “I told Gene, we have a nice house, but I don’t care if we have to move and live somewhere else. I don’t want to live with a dream never realized or never attempted. To me, that would be the worst.” Even once they committed to realizing Gene’s dream, there were moments of doubt. “We opened right in the middle of Covid. Gene asked me if I wanted to pull the plug during the long, drawn-out building process, but I thought, ‘no, it’s now or never.’ I’m beyond grateful that he was able to see his dream realized.”

Two years ago, Gene passed away unexpectedly from a complication during back surgery. His extremely athletic life led to several injuries and surgeries over the years. He had been a pole vaulter in high school, a goalie on his college soccer team, and enjoyed surfing for years until he could no longer enjoy the sport due to the pain he was experiencing. Several months after @pietrinipizza opened, Gene’s pain got so bad, he was no longer able to stand long enough to make pizzas. “Towards the end, he would just come in and pull up a chair tableside with customers and chat it up with them, it made him so happy. Sometimes I’d have to go over and tell him to let them eat.”

There son Landon inherited Gene’s passion for pizza. “In 2016, Gene was having issues with his back, but he had already registered for Tony Gemignani’s pizza school in San Francisco. Part of the class included working the line in Tony’s restaurant, and Gene realized he couldn’t spend all of that time on his feet, so he sent Landon in his place. That was Landon’s first real taste of what pizza making was like, the fire was ignited, and he became a certified “Pizzaiolo”.

Reopening after Gene’s passing was bitter-sweet. “We were closed for a matter of weeks. I was sort of hiding out in the kitchen just making pizza and salads so I wouldn’t have to talk to people, but little by little I found myself going out and talking to people once again, and it was very healing. It got a bit easier as the days went by. You need to have a purpose to get back up again. If I didn’t have that, I would have had many more days in my bed. Showing up is ½ the battle. To be able to work with my son Landon day in and day out also makes it easier. My personal journey with grief has definitely broadened my awareness and sensitivity to people and what they are going through. For me, this is far more than just a restaurant or business. I always want our restaurant to be serving good food along with a huge helping of kindness and hospitality.”

Hospitality is ingrained in Blair and her family. “We don’t know a whole lot about the restaurant business, but I think it’s in our favor that we work hard, and we will do what it takes to get the job done. We believe in our product and stand by the high-quality ingredients we use. Landon is equally as passionate about pizza as his dad was and I think our family’s genuine love, concern and care for people translates into everything we provide at Pietrini Pizza.

They truly do care about people. For 25 years, Blair has run a nonprofit called Grateful Hearts Storehouse. She had an 8,000 sq ft warehouse with a food pantry. “We fed people 4x a week and sent trucks out 5x a week to secure food donations, feeding thousands each month. We had special needs programs and a “Felon to Freedom” program. After Gene’s death, GH scaled back considerably but has still been able to provide holiday meals for hundreds of families including approximately 40 families this past year along with providing gifts for over 100 military children in need as well as children with severe illnesses in 2023 through a toy drive held at Pietrini Pizza.
Additionally Grateful Hearts partnered together with @pietrinipizza in their “Lifting up Lahaina” campaign this past August (where 50% of all Aloha pizza proceeds were donated) and were able to send more than $2,000 to the Maui Food bank to assist in the feeding of displaced people (as a result of the Maui wildfires).

“Giving back to our community is something that is very important to us as a family, as is helping people in need.” Realizing that running a restaurant is rather time consuming, Blair has sought ways to help those in her community through the restaurant itself. One way she has done this is by hiring individuals in need of a second chance. One such individual was a young man who was raised in the projects of Chicago who became involved with gangs, served prison time and after being released, moved to California to start over. He found it difficult to find a job, but upon meeting him, Blair knew immediately that she wanted to provide him with an employment opportunity. “Team Pietrini” welcomed him with open arms and gave him the respect and dignity he deserved. This young man ended up exhibiting an incredibly strong work ethic and took pride in the product he produced. He was a valuable employee for a full year, up until the time he decided to move back home to rejoin his family in Chicago. He remains in contact with many of the staff to this day.

Pietrini Pizza has also joined in partnership with “Home Boy Industries” (The largest gang and ex-felon rehabilitation and placement program in the U.S.) in an effort to give graduates a second chance by providing training and employment at Pietrini Pizza to help them get a fresh start in life.

For Blair, @pietrinipizza has always been about more than just pizza. “The customer service and hospitality part of the business are some of the most important aspects for me. When people come into our restaurant, I want them to enjoy great food, great company, and great service. People have said that they feel like they are in our home kitchen, and that’s beautiful. We don’t want to feel like a corporation. We’re endeavoring to be authentic to who we are while learning everything possible to sustain the growth we are experiencing.”

For others out there, Blair is a testament to her own advice. “I’m no spring chicken, but I don’t think it’s ever too late to try something new, or to see your dreams realized.  There are people who might count someone out simply because they are older, or a woman or an ex-felon or whatever. Everyone has a story, and it’s about bringing our true authentic selves into every aspect of our business and making it uniquely our own.  Some people choose what they do for monetary gain, but if it’s not something you love doing, don’t even attempt to go down that road.  There’s something about going into a restaurant and meeting the owner or chef and seeing right away that it’s the passion of their heart. Tough times are going to come for everyone in both life and business, even though it may look differently. If you truly love what you do and are willing to fight for it, it helps you move forward with confidence.  From all outward appearances, it was insane for us to start a restaurant this late in the game. Even though we “experimented” with our pizzas on friends and family, and later tested the market through catering with a mobile wood fired oven, opening a brick-and-mortar location was still a huge risk for us.”

Family is of the utmost importance to Blair and it’s where she draws strong boundaries. “I often have people giving me advice and telling me how many hours we should be open etc. For us, (especially because of what we have been through), I don’t hesitate to let people know that I am not willing to sacrifice anyone on the altar of pizza.  Family comes first, and though we’ll give our best when it comes to business, what we do has to be sustainable.

We need to expand and cross-train our staff, so that those who desire to have a life outside of the restaurant actually can. Though owning a restaurant was never on Blair’s radar, it surfaced as a result of her life with Gene. “ I have worked in various restaurants over the years. I have been a dishwasher, a cook, a bookkeeper, a hostess, and a server, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would own a restaurant.

Pizza didn’t really come into my world until I met Gene. He talked about pizza endlessly through the years. Dates and vacations always involved pizza. He was so happy when we finally opened the restaurant and thrilled that “our dream” had finally come true. (I later clarified that it was not my dream, but his dream. (Though my dream was actually for him to see his dream come true:). I’m thrilled that he did it. He took the risk and made it happen! @pietrinipizza isn’t a huge place, but it’s not a small place either. We have 86 seats inside and 25 outside. We have a beer and wine bar.

Most people choose not to take the risk in the end and instead choose only to try to learn from the mistakes of others rather than their own, but it’s all part of the journey. Our family wishes things wouldn’t have happened the way they did. You can choose to become  bitter about your  situation, or, you can have Landon’s perspective, “that these are the cards we were dealt”  –It is what it is, and we can’t go back and change what happened to us, but we can choose what we do from this point moving forward and allow those things to mold our character and hopefully take some of what we have learned through our experience to help someone else along the this journey.

Blair’s experience in restaurants impacted how she runs @pietrinipizza today. “Dishwashing was one of my jobs in my college cafeteria. I flunked math in high school but when I was hosting at a very successful restaurant, the manager asked me to become the bookkeeper.  I ended up loving it. I realized that I accepted the position at that time because numbers felt like an area of failure in my life, and I needed to get past it. Gene and I waited tables together at a restaurant and some of the staff we came across were so miserable. Managers were condescending, and I’d watch people make more mistakes because of how they were treated. At @pietrinipizza we are working hard to build a culture that incorporates our core values and shows our employees and staff that we truly care about them and their lives.”

As for the future? “For me, the focus is on sustaining the growth we are currently experiencing. We’ve experienced over 100% growth in the last year. People ask us if we’re planning on opening for lunch anytime soon, but again, we’re making decisions that will help sustain that family balance. We’re only open 5 days a week and we open from 4 pm until 9 pm. For a restaurant, our hours are short. We have no desire to build a pizza empire. We desire to do what we do with excellence and not grow beyond our means – I don’t mean just financially, but in whatever ways would take us away from our core values. Regret is something I don’t want to live with. Before Gene passed, my dad passed away in 2017. Just 7 months to the day later, my mom passed away. In 2020 my sister-in-law, who was very dear to me, passed away. Then, 7 weeks later, her husband (my husband’s brother) died. Lastly, my husband died in 2021 unexpectedly during surgery. It was just one loss after another. Everything we’ve been through has really reinforced what matters most and it’s definitely not the money or the job, it’s the people that we care about. I will do everything within my power to run this business with a “family first” mindset. The long-term goal is to have something that is successful, stable and sustainable to pass on to my kids, and hopefully even my grandkids.

As a woman, Blair finds she has her own strengths that were complemented by Gene’s. “I think my husband would have agreed with the fact that women have an ability to multitask well. It’s wired into them. Gene was more “black and white” when it came to seeking and providing answers and solutions.  I tend to want to flesh things out and take more of a nurturing approach to situations. For the most part, I believe women tap into and prioritize compassion and nurturing. We may take a more roundabout approach, so where it might take me 15 minutes to answer something my husband would have answered immediately. We balanced each other out. We were a great team. I realize that a lot of my confidence came as a result of my husband being my biggest protector and cheerleader. I knew he was always in my corner. It was about being a team and recognizing the value of our team and the unique differences and pieces we each bring together to balance each other. Men are built to be protectors and women are built to be nurturers. In a really healthy situation, you should have both. If we negate someone because they are one or the other, we lose out hugely.”

Blair seeks to emulate those very things she talks about, being protective, nurturing, compassionate, wise, authentic and risk-taking. She doesn’t stand in her own way, and she doesn’t let others either. She follows her intuition and stays true to herself. She cares deeply about people and wants to create opportunities for them. She leads with her heart and creates space for those who need it most. Next time you’re in Orange County, CA, make sure you stop by @pietrinipizza to say hi and grab a slice with Blair!

Owners/Master Pizzaiola


Elkhart Beach, IN

Elkhart Beach, IN

Meet Carmie and Gemma, @thecataldosisters, of @antonios_italian_restaurant in Elkhart, Indiana!

For Carmie and Gemma, pizza has always been prominent. As Gemma pointed out “a big part of it was being around it all our lives. It was never forced. It was really cool watching our dad compete.” For Carmie, motivation also came from “seeing our two other siblings, Tony, and Caitie, compete and travel. It was always highly encouraged!” Both Gemma and Carmie started working at Antonio’s when they turned 10 years old, but neither made pizza until they were 13. While Gemma has only been making pizza consistently for 2 years, this past March, at only 18 years old, she placed 1st at the Pizza Expo in Las Vegas in the Traditional Division.

Carmie, now 20, started making pizza 7 years ago. “We always kind of new how to make them, but at the store we weren’t making them consistently.” When she entered high school, that started to change, and Carmie focused more and more on pizza. Gemma points out, “Pizza was always Carmie’s deal. I was behind the line for 5.5 years doing what our sister Caitlin did. When Carmie left and went to college, I had to start making pizza.” With Carmie in college, Gemma took over the primary role of pizza making. “Our dad and younger sister Gianna are usually at the pasta line. Gianna is an absolute wizard — she is just so impressive! She’s 17 but you should see the way she handles and runs the line. The food she creates is consistent and beautiful all the time.”

While neither of @thecataldosisters won their first competition unlike their dad, both are incredibly impressive pizzaiole. “Seeing her win Columbus made me strive to be better,” says Gemma. In 2020, Carmie competed in the Midwest Pizza Expo in Columbus, OH and placed 1st. She had placed 4th in 2019 and would go on to place 2nd in the Non-Traditional Division at the Pizza Expo in Las Vegas in 2021 and 12th in the same division in 2023. But Carmie will be the first to tell you that you don’t know when you’re ready to compete. “The first time, in Columbus, I competed with a pizza that I had made hundreds of times. You just have to do it because you never feel ready your first time, but I did the second time. When you’re at a competition, it’s not your oven. I didn’t realize how weird it was using someone else’s oven. You know your oven and the hot spots, so it’s nerve-wracking, especially with our dad. It’s not that you have to do it, but there’s pressure to impress dad. I couldn’t care less about actually winning, but I want dad to be impressed by what I make.” As Gemma notes, it’s something they want to do on their own. “We don’t want his help.” There’s no question their hard work has paid off. Gemma also excelled at her first competition, the Pizza Pasta Northeast show in Atlantic City in 2022, where she placed 3rd in the Young Pizzamaker of the Year category.

Though accomplished, Carmie and Gemma still face challenges every day. “The hardest part is reaching the oven,” according to Gemma. “Having to get heavy pizza out of the back of the oven takes strength when you’re short.” There were also some things they didn’t expect when first learning to make pizza, like the math, as Carmie points out. “We have an equation for our dough based on the air temperature and flour temperature. I didn’t know math was going to be involved. It’s not hard, but it’s almost shocking. Our house dough that we make is used for regular pizza, garlic knots, and bread. We have to learn the life span of that versus our 72% high hydration dough. We can’t freeze the regular dough, but we can freeze the high hydration dough.”

Until 3 years ago, @antonios_italian_restaurant made all their dough by hand. “We had a big stainless-steel bathtub-like container. We’d make 150lbs of dough and it would take us 40 minutes. We finally bought a Hobart, and now our dough is more consistent, and it’s done in 6-8 minutes!” Their dad, Paul, tends to lean towards tradition. “Paul is traditional and old school. He’s open to new things and not stuck in the 80s, but it took him a long time to come around to a mixer. It’s more for our convenience so we can do it for him.”

Carmie’s love language is making food for other people and seeing them eat it. “I really enjoy cooking for people and having them enjoy it. If I make something spectacular, I’m rejuvenated. If I know it’s good, that’s my favorite part, but that feeling does get really depleted after an 8, 10, 12 hour shift.” Antonio’s has 2.5 ovens and sells 300-400 pizzas in a week, 150 of which are on a Friday night.

@thecataldosisters have similar tastebuds with both citing banana peppers as one of their favorite toppings. For Carmie, they are “the most underrated. They elevate anything.” For Gemma, her favorite pizza includes them alongside, “pepperoni, garlic, and hot honey!” They love to get creative and make beautiful pizzas. “What we eat every day is not what people in Indiana typically go for, not to say that there aren’t those that appreciate it.” They have a garden in the summer and use all the ingredients they grow at Antonio’s. They make their own sausage and blend their own cheese. “We have a very European view that simple is better, lighter is better. There’s no digestibility in Indiana. We try to use mostly fresh ingredients, but ingredients like artichokes we have to import.” Their menu consists of artisan pizzas and build your own. “If someone on the phone is trying to put 9 toppings on a crust, I tell them it’s going to be soggy. I usually try to be up front with people. We never want to put our name on something that will turn out bad. It also makes people mad that we don’t do any of the artisan pizzas for carryout. A lot of it doesn’t travel well because it’s so fresh.”

@antonios_italian_restaurant was started in 1979. “Our dad, his siblings, and parents immigrated from Calabria. It used to be called ‘Bruno’s’ pizza because our Uncle Bruno and great grandfather, Antonio, started it. They had a lot of skill and knowledge of flavors.” By the late 80s, their dad, Paul, had joined. “Some time in the late 80s/early 90s, someone set it on fire and it burned down. Our dad, Uncle Bruno, and grandfather rebuilt it as Antonio’s. Bruno moved back to Italy for some time and eventually our dad bought out his brother and dad.” It turned out to be the greatest decision he could have made. “He genuinely loves it. He has the cheesiest smile on his face and just really loves cooking. Growing up in Italy, food was everything for them. It’s all he’s ever known. Coming to the US from Italy as an immigrant, you want to hold onto culture and traditions. Our family, our heritage, we’re going to do something to keep it going and pass it on so that history isn’t lost. Our marinara and lasagna recipes were our grandmother’s, just tweaked a little.”

For @thecataldosisters, the traditions they want to hold onto come with Christmas and Easter. “Christmas Eve is huge for Italians. It’s more important than Christmas Day. We go all out. It’s a communal sharing of food. We make this bread-cookie-dessert thing called Nocatalli that is fried. Everyone makes them and the recipes are all slightly different. We exchange them! At Easter, we make easter bread and bake whole eggs into the braid.” The sisters hope to make a family trip to Italy by 2025 to visit their roots. “Our dad competes in Italy, and each time he takes one of us. Gianna just went and she was the last one and he’s always said he’s going to take all of us together and go down south after we’ve each had a turn to go with him.”

@thecataldosisters are 2 of 6 siblings. They are the oldest and middle of the younger 3 – their 3 older siblings, Alannah, Tony, and Caitlin, are at least 9 years older and Gianna is the youngest. According to Gemma, “Carmie got the oldest child genes,” and Carmie agrees. “Working together is like 2nd nature, it’s very fluid. We genuinely don’t argue. We always talk about how well we all get along because we know that not everyone gets along with their siblings. Because we’ve been put in a professional environment, we try not to be petty. We’ve developed adult relationships with our other siblings and Gemma, Gianna and I have spent more time together at the restaurant than at home.”

@antonios_italian_restaurant used to be open 6 days a week, and the siblings would work all 6 days. “The only day at home was Monday. We were all homeschooled, so we’d do our work in the morning and then go into work until 10/11 or 12/1. The nice thing, was that we could take a day off. When you’re younger, it’s harder because you’re immature, and you think, ‘no, I just want to have fun at work.’ It’s a little bit challenging to stay focused as a kid. We weren’t put into adult leadership positions, but we assumed them because we knew where everything was. There was a silent understanding because we were the leaders. By 12 or 13 we knew how to do everything on the line. We were looked at and expected to behave accordingly. We were representing the family and the restaurant. Our dad would always say, ‘immediate obedience.’”

Today, Antonio’s is only open 4 days a week, which gives Gemma more time to hang out with her friends. For Carmie, it was a little harder when she was in high school. “I would work 6 days and since my older siblings had phased out, I could feel my parents depending on me. I have a lot of oldest child traits. They hadn’t raised a child in 9 years when they had me. There were things I chose to say no to because the restaurant was more important. I prioritized being there with my family and saw it as really important, but my senior year, I was more flexible.”

College was a difficult transition for Carmie, and it didn’t help that it was during Covid. “There were a lot of restrictions. My dad got covid and was in the hospital for a couple of months. It was very intense. I felt this duty as the oldest child – ‘do I go home?’ I felt that as the older daughter, my duty was to be back home and doing things at the restaurant. My first year of college, I would go back once every 2 weeks and work a couple of days. I was able to separate myself and not feel guilty. Now, it’s a, ‘call me if you need me,’ type thing.”

Carmie is gearing up to graduate early. “I kind of had this weird quarter-life crisis where I decided to graduate early. My major is theology with a focus in English Literature, so I’m figuring out if I want to do something with my degree. I’ve really missed being with my family and working in the restaurant over the last 6 months. Vegas was great because I forgot how much I loved making things. After I graduate, I’ll be home for some time and I’ll focus on some social media things and marketing, not so much the food aspect, to help it run more as an efficient business.” Though Gemma just graduated and is getting ready for college, she is excited to execute their ideas together. “We’re working on something that’s more merchandise and product based than food based. We’re hoping to start a business under Antonio’s with our sisters, so it will be women owned! We know what products we like and don’t like, so we want to create our own that we know work well, like chefs’ coats. Most chefs’ coats and aprons are made for men and don’t fit women. As women who work in the kitchen, nothing is really meant for us. We want to make things that are made for us and are flattering. It won’t be in full effect until January when I come home from college, and we’re hoping to drag Carmie’s fiancé into the restaurant. Now that we’re older, we get excited by small things like, ‘look at how beautiful those bowls are!’ Women prefer to cook with beautiful things because why not? We have a lot of things in the works!”

As women, @thecataldosisters have noticed that they’ve been treated differently, by, as Gemma points out, “We face the whole, ‘can I talk to the manager? I am the manager’ thing. Our Employees respect us and we respect them. We’re not just there sometimes, we’re there all the time. We’re the first to get there and the last to leave.” Carmie agrees that their employees see that they have a place there. “Gemma knows everything there is to know about dough. We have put in the work so we can say that we know what we’re doing. We don’t say that without any backing and there’s always room to improve and learn.”

What keeps them going is the adrenaline rush and bonding that comes with working at the restaurant. As Carmie points out, “if none of our siblings wanted anything to do with this business, I don’t think I would either.” And Gemma agrees. “A lot of the motivation is because I love you guys so much and because you love it so much, it makes me love it more.” It’s a true family affair. “Our sister Caitlin is always creating new things for wine dinners, Gianna is killing it on the line, our dad’s keeping it all moving, and our aunt works 3 days a week.” It’s a very strong community that is literally family. It’s encouraging. Our cousins come when they can. It makes it all worth it.”

The motto at @antonios_italian_restaurant always has been, “we feed you like family,” and that’s exactly what they do. As Gemma notes, “some of our employees like to say, ‘we treat you like family.’ Our dad deserves all the credit in the world. Both of our parents do. They are the best role models. Our older siblings, too. For at me at least. Even you, Carmie. You make us who we are.” Carmie agrees, “My success in college and in the jobs I’ve done is 100% because of my parents and the environment. Having that responsibility at such a young age completely changed the game for me!”

For other women out there, @thecataldosisters encourage you to get your hands dirty. Carmie is the first to tell you, “Don’t be afraid to try. We’ve done everything from the glamorous competitions to scrubbing and scraping floors. You have to be comfortable enough to be creative.” And as Gemma emphasizes, “don’t be afraid to fail. You’re not going to win every competition and everything you implement isn’t going to work. It’s about finding what fits you, especially as women. We’re less catered to, so don’t be afraid to get in it. I’m the only girl in our pizza kitchen.”

Carmie and Gemma are dynamic, driven, and bright. They’re each other’s biggest fans, full of love and gratitude. They take on challenges with the biggest smiles, lead by example, and chase their dreams. They’re only just getting started and there’s no doubt their futures will be exceptionally bright. Next time you’re in Indiana, stop by Antonio’s to share a slice with the Cataldo sisters and talk all things pizza!

Owner/Master Pizzaiola


Cairo, EGYPT

Cairo, EGYPT

Meet Dareen Akkad, the owner of What the Crust in Cairo, Egypt!

Growing up in Canada, Dareen was groomed to be a scientist. Pizza, let alone owning her own business, was not a thought in her mind. “This is causing an existential crisis. People recognize me in Egypt as ‘the pizza lady’, but what’s my purpose? I never thought I’d even have my own business. My parents were academics. My dad is a physicist, and he got his PhD in France, where my parents met. I went to University to study science, and while I’ve always been a creative person and I love arts, studying the arts was not a thing. In an Arab family (as with most immigrant families), you have to be a doctor. A medical doctor is great, but otherwise you’re expected to be a doctor of something else. I got so depressed even though I was doing well. Ultimately, I dropped out of pre-med and got a degree in the arts, but I had no support when I changed to a BA.”

Throughout Dareen’s time at University she worked in restaurants. “I worked at Tim Horton’s and a catering company for the University. When I later moved to the UK, I worked as a waitress and bartended in a pub. Eventually I became a restaurant supervisor. I was good with people and had good sales, I just didn’t know where it was going.”

With a BA, Dareen found herself working for multinational advertising agencies as an Account Manager and Copywriter. “I met my husband when I was working in Kuwait. He was a planner and a strategist. He had helped a few start-up businesses, which planted the seed in my head. I realized you can have your own business. You can have your own thing. I was just in the rat race and hadn’t considered that I could do it too.”

Upon getting married, Dareen and her husband started to have kids. “When I became pregnant, we came back to Montreal. I have family in France and love French baked goods. I missed crackly baguettes while in Montreal, but I realized how pricey it was. I bought Ken Forkish’s book, ‘Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast’ and I started trying to do what he does religiously. I became extra obsessed and good at making good bread. I was pregnant and I was making a loaf every day and eating it. I gained like 60 pounds. I love bread! When I had my kid, we just kept going. Then, my husband got an offer to move to Egypt and it was too good of an offer to refuse.”

Dareen’s husband made the move without her, and they would travel back and forth to visit one another. Though she had planned to move with the kids after her second was born, it wasn’t until after the birth of their third child in 2019, that they were able to join him. “My dad is Egyptian and I had visited as a tourist. He had tried to get us to like it. I just thought it was not my thing as kid and a young adult. Egypt has extreme poverty and wealth and everything in between. Nevertheless, we thought it would be a good adventure.”

Dareen and her husband were always thinking of what they can do. “Egypt is full of opportunity. Whatever is up and coming comes to Egypt like 10 years later, like acai is now just becoming a thing. When I moved, I kept making bread and quickly realized there were no French bakeries or pizzerias. When we lived in Kuwait in 2011, there was a Neapolitan pizzeria I was obsessed with. It was on point when compared to Italy. It was owned by a Kuwaiti guy who would go to a bank job during the day and open at 6pm and work until the dough was finished. It was one of the most inspired things. It showed me that even if you have to do something to make ends meet you can still do what you like after. I wanted him to teach me and he was like, ‘yeah, yeah.’ I was a nag, but he didn’t teach me, which I now understand because people ask me all the time to teach them and most of them aren’t serious.”

For Dareen, the food scene in Egypt was lacking. ‘Bread I could make at home but pizza was hard to find. The American style pizza chains were crap and the Italian style pizzas just weren’t Italian. I started thinking about opening my own bakery or pizzeria and a pizzeria seemed more manageable as my first experience of doing my own thing because I’d only have to worry about perfecting and managing one dough. Everyone loves pizza but not everyone in Egypt cared for western-style bread loaves at the time.”

Dareen’s youngest was just a few months old when she started her pizza journey. “We found a nanny who saved my life. I was completely destroyed with 3 young kids.” Dareen was already in the midst of making plans when her nanny started. Her husband was helping with financials and she was busy contacting suppliers and copywriting. “It’s so hard to find suppliers here. There are no websites and the country tries to encourage local produce over imported, so the process took a long time and was very costly. I’d go to supermarkets, look at imported tomatoes and look for the importer on the label. 4/5 times it was a dud. Eventually I was able to find 2 or 3 importers for anything coming from abroad, but none of them took me seriously.”

With her limited resources, Dareen did all the planning she possibly could and then went to Naples to train with @pizzanapoletanaverace. “I had ordered the oven already from Naples, so when I was in Italy, I went and visited the guys building it at Manna Forni @mannaforninapoli. They made everything from scratch. At AVPN, I knew a lot about dough and had read all the books, so a lot of my training was a change of perspective. Bakery is very French-centric because they have set the rules and written the books whereas Italians have their own method of thinking. It was a question of switching over technique and calculations on how to scale dough and learning how to do the Neapolitan slap. It’s one thing to learn but then you have to practice these skills, like how to handle the oven and turn the pizza. I was there for about a month at the end of 2019.”

Back in Egypt, Dareen had found a location for her business. “It was a small hole in the wall – literally just the garage of a villa. It was a dump, but it was what we could afford. My husband and I DIY’d the refurbishments and renovations. I did all the designs and drew all of the counters and measurements. I worked with a carpenter and my husband worked with an electrician. I had a Pinterest mood board of everything I wanted to do. It was so small. When we first started, we had 20-24 seats.”

Dareen’s oven arrived in January 2020 and by early March, she was in testing mode. “We didn’t have a door yet. The oven was installed right at the entrance because we couldn’t bring it in any further. The floorplan was created so that the first thing that you see when you walk in is a huge oven. I was trying all the ingredients and applying what I had learned. I started from scratch because it was a completely new environment. By the end of March we realized the virus wasn’t going away and the country went into lockdown. On April 1st my husband and I looked at each other. We had spent all of this money. My husband had a consulting contract with an airline company, and they were the first to go, so now we were in Egypt without an income and security having spent all of our savings on this pizzeria. We weren’t 100% ready, but what else were we going to do? On 4/2/2020 we decided to just do it. Essential businesses could stay open until 7pm. It also coincided with our marriage anniversary, so we took it as a sign that maybe this was going to be ok.”

@whatthecrust opened and everyday Dareen made the dough by hand. “It was about 10-15kg. The quantities weren’t huge. My husband and I were both in advertising and we didn’t have a marketing budget, but if we couldn’t do this, then we were bad advertisers. We paced ourselves and made mistakes. All the big Egyptian hotels that imported ingredients had stock they didn’t know what to do with. Now, they were happy to supply us with amazing, imported ingredients I had previously had trouble finding.”

Throughout that first month, @whatthecrust grew through word of mouth. “Our neighborhood is where the embassy and UN offices are. A lot of expats live here. We had to make sure we didn’t have a line because of Covid. By July, we were able to open to 50% capacity which meant 8-10 people at most. In September, everyone was back from the summer. I couldn’t make the dough by hand anymore, so we bought the tools we were missing. We also had our first hires. Our personal driver became a delivery driver because I didn’t want him to be out of a job and we hired cleaning and kitchen help.”

It wasn’t long before Dareen hired a friend of hers from University who would become a partner. Opening in a pandemic led to a wild 3 years that brought a lot of well-deserved recognition. “We became the 1st AVPN affiliate in Africa and I became the 1st Arabic speaking AVPN instructor. I’m also an AVPN ambassador. We also received our 1st award and were named in the top 10 Neapolitan pizzas outside of Italy. Our IG was also growing and doing really well. It was insane. I was making pizzas, on the floor, training staff, and managing social media. Just 3 years of insanity.”

In September 2022, Dareen was invited to Naples (and she was invited back this year) and received awards for having a top 100 pizzeria and being a pioneer for opening in North Africa. “It all happened quite fast. We were doing well in Cairo which has 20 million people, so everyone asked when we were going to open more. We were just breaking even, but we thought maybe the franchise model could work and we found the perfect guys. They wanted to open their own pizza truck. One was from a family in hotels and the other had trained at Le Cordon Bleu and in management. Through them, we opened the first truck and it became one of the 1st AVPN affiliated trucks in the world. Now, with them, we have opened 4 more places and are working on a 5th. My 1st location functions as a central kitchen and everything comes out of it. We have a truck that every morning sends things to each branch. In the summer, we send some of our kitchen staff to the seasonal locations to be with them.”

In early 2023, Dareen found partners who wanted to collaborate, so she pitched a bakery concept. “Along with all of the pizza I would wake up super early and work on perfecting a baguette. I wanted to make a baguette that French people would approve of. My kids go to a French school, so for a year, we supplied the baguettes. I had a good formula and had invested in a bread oven. Our partners saw there were few bakeries in their area, so I designed the floorplan and workflow for a nice small location they had. However, this time, I hired a team to operate the business. I handed over all of the recipes I had and trained them on how to make them.”

Managing multiple successful businesses on top of motherhood and additional projects took its toll on Dareen. “By early March I had burned out and my finger got badly injured at work. The pizzerias were running without me as I set up the bakery and I had also started taking on other projects – I was appointed to author a book on Egyptian heritage foods. There was a lot happening and I had to disconnect. I hadn’t been to Canada in 4 years. I slowly started handing things over and realized we really needed a summer holiday. As soon as school ended, we came to Canada for the summer.”

Dareen took this summer as an opportunity for a much needed reset. “I’m taking my vitamins, trying to sleep, walking in the forest and not thinking about pizza. Well, I say this but it’s not true. I handed social media over to an agency. We had 44k followers – we did well, so they had a good basis from which to build. I’ve been overseeing and managing as much and as little as I can from a distance.”

The summer in Canada also allowed Dareen to reflect and start focusing on the future. “Living in Egypt is rough. We are earning in Egyptian pounds, which have been devalued 3 times since I’ve been there. I can’t even transfer money out of Egypt. We can’t make enough money with the income we have in Egypt, so we’re looking at locations in Montreal or Ottawa and trying to see where would we go from here.”

Though Dareen is unsure of what the future holds, she’s looking at her options. “We want to keep the brand the same in Canada, though Montreal might force us to change the name or make it French now that a new bill just passed about protecting the French language in Quebec. Ottawa felt a bit like Cairo in terms of pizza, so we’re trying to see. It’s either that or look for a job where I can earn more until I can save up and do this again. Part of problem in Egypt is that our kids go to private school that we pay in Euros while we earn Egyptian pounds. It’s sucking us dry and completely depleting us of what we can do.”

Meanwhile, the pizza scene in Cairo is exploding. “This summer is insane. Some new pizzerias are making Neapolitan while some Italian restaurants are introducing pizza to their menu. At least a dozen new Neapolitan pizzerias in Cairo are coming up on my IG, so it’s definitely changing.” The growing appreciation for Neapolitan pizza has also landed Dareen some great press. “We were on satellite TV twice across Middle East and were featured on popular talk shows. Everyone knows What the Crust – the brand is quite famous. People who may have seen us on tv or on social will recognize us and that has caused me a bit of social anxiety. We’ve been stopped on the street, in the mall, and the airport.”

Dareen isn’t threatened by the other businesses opening up and embraces it. “People are trying to do what we’re doing and I think it’s so flattering. It gives me a chance to play my role as AVPN ambassador. I’ve been consulting with 2 places in Saudi – I did a training for AVPN and there’s another group of guys trying to open one of the first Italian restaurant in their city.”

@WhattheCrust has embraced both tradition and local flair. “In the beginning I was very adamant to do it very Italian. I was of the thought, ‘this is the tradition and it’s not my job to change it.’ I was very focused on quality over quantity and wanted only a few pizzas, and to make them very well. We would do a special so I could develop a recipe based on seasonality and what’s available in the market, too. While I was setting up the bakery, everyone agreed it was time to expand the menu. With Yassine, our franchise partner, we had already worked on a dozen new pizzas we could add – some classic and some creative. It became a bit of a logistical issue on training staff across all branches, so we decided to release them as seasonal specials. We released the first set in beginning of year, chose the winner and kept it on the menu, then chose another set and all were popular and kept them all on the menu.”

Managing and growing multiple businesses is no easy feat, and Dareen has faced her share of challenges, some of which, stem from her being a woman. “It’s especially hard with hiring. In the beginning, some would say, ‘I’m not taking orders from a woman’ in the middle of the busiest shift and I’d have to kick them out. It’s not my problem if he can’t handle that I’m a woman.” While Dareen’s womanhood set her apart, it wasn’t always negative. “In Egypt, it’s a big deal that I’m the owner, that I’m a woman, and that I’m working. It’s actually one thing that helped us spread the word because it’s a combination that culturally, many Egyptians were not used to. Somehow, it worked to our advantage. It wasn’t usual for an Arab woman to do this – although it’s starting to normalize – but I was like, ‘I’m Egyptian, I’m Arab, and I’m also an Arab Canadian.’ I was of the mindset, ‘anything a man can do, I can do better.’ After a while, our hires saw that I worked harder than anyone. You have to lead by example. The guys that stuck around became just like me. Now, I’m able to hire more people and they can train them and when they see me, they don’t see that I’m a woman, in a good way.”

Dareen truly loves the work that she does and wants to encourage other women to join the industry. “I have ADHD, I need to get energy out, so working on my feet is a good way to get out the hyperactivity. I hosted the Pizza Olympics in Egypt and the winners were going to go on to compete in Italy. Not a single competitor was a girl. Since none of them could get a visa in time to go to Italy, AVPN sent me and I was 1 of 3 women out of hundreds of men. In the Middle East, I think I am the 1st and only pizzaiola who owns her own place and is head chef. I’ve been very adamant about hiring women, but I honestly had to give up because there were so many cultural hiccups, like fathers wouldn’t let them stay out late or work with men. I’ve been able to find a few, but it’s not as many as I’d hoped. I partnered with a refugee agency that trains refugees in different skills and gives us a list of candidates that would be willing and able to work. So far, two of them have been approved to move to Canada and Australia!”

Dareen’s advice for others out there is to find a good partner that can fill the gaps that aren’t your strong suits. “I was never alone. My husband was my partner from the beginning. In any kind of new venture, there has to be someone you trust and who trusts you unconditionally. With my husband, I knew we’d support each other no matter what. He was my biggest cheerleader. He gave me all of the encouragement I needed and when I couldn’t go on anymore, he was able to take over. He was also able to address concerns with the guys that maybe I wasn’t able to. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for a successful business. If you’re a woman and trying to start your own thing, it will be hard, so you have to be realistic. It might be hard for suppliers and guests to take you seriously, so you have to take yourself seriously. Your work speaks for itself, and ours did. In Egypt, my husband is a unicorn, too. He’s looked after the kids while I’ve worked. He’s stayed behind while I went to train. He gives me the credit when he deserves it just as much. Not many men support their wives like that. Try to find your unicorn partner.”

Working with a family member or spouse can be taxing on a relationship, but Dareen and her husband were realistic early on. “We knew from the beginning that conflict would come if there was not a decision maker clearly assigned. We complete each other in that he can’t make pizza and I can’t manage like he can. For a while, we couldn’t escape work, but we understood how to market ourselves and the power of social media. It definitely helped that both of us are branding professionals, but you can’t do it all alone. Both of us are honest with ourselves and each other about what we can and can’t do.”

Dareen also attributes her success to luck. “I have to admit that there has to be a little bit of luck. Covid and how it happened was lucky for us, though we may not have seen it right away. I learned so much in this experience. I am better off making the pizza because I don’t enjoy the responsibility I have grown into where I am the boss.”

As for the future, Dareen is focused on her financial plan and goals. “I need to know how much I can afford in rent, the oven costs, the renovations, the ingredients… I have the right foundation in Egypt to make sure it maintains its quality and service standards. I keep track of all the reviews. In a year, I’m hoping to finish the book and make sure everything is working and that whatever is needed from us is something we can do through distance or occasional trips. I’ve always had a bit of a complex being raised by an Arab dad who always said boys could do things that I couldn’t do and it just boiled my blood.”

Dareen is fierce, honest, and tenacious. She goes after what she wants and is motivated by those who doubt her. She’s filled with gratitude for the people who have helped her achieve the success she has today and looks for ways to pay it forward and encourage others. Next time you’re in Cairo, make sure you reach out to Dareen and join her for a slice and conversation at What the Crust!



Manitoba, CANADA

Manitoba, CANADA

Meet Diana Cline of @dianas_cucina_and_lounge in Winnipeg, Canada!

Diana grew up baking with her mom and grandma. “I like to say it’s true that baking is in my blood. I’ve always had a natural affinity for real food and ingredients. It’s just one of my talents and passions. My great grandpa was a baker and my grandma worked in his bakery.” However, though it was something she loved, Diana didn’t necessarily always see it as a professional career path. “Growing up, it was considered maybe not successful enough for a woman to be in the cooking industry. I felt I had to go out in the business world and be behind a desk. If my grandparents were still in physical form, they’d tell you I was a born entrepreneur. When I was 11 and 12 I started little businesses – I stained glass jewelry and boxes and I would sell them at consignment shops. I wanted to get a job, but I was too young. Earning money was freedom. I would have freedom to do what I wanted and buy what I wanted. I had a home cleaning business for my neighbors, and I babysat. I had a nice little empire.”

By the time she entered college, Diana had decided to study Computer Programming. “I love learning, but I’m not good at sitting at a desk for 6-8 hours a day. It’s not in my spirit. While in school I got a job as a delivery driver for an internationally known pizza delivery chain. I also worked a few other jobs at the same time to earn more money. One day, my boyfriend and I were presented with the opportunity to buy a franchise. We asked ourselves, ‘where do we see ourselves in 5 years?’ I liked the idea of being your own boss and making your own direction. With computer programming, I saw a future behind a desk in a cubicle and that sounded like prison to me. My boyfriend saw himself getting to a cap he wouldn’t be able to grow beyond. So, we said, “ok, let’s do this.”

@dianas_cucina_and_lounge’s decision to buy a franchise brought together her passion for food and her entrepreneurial spirit. “Pizza to me is a fusion between baking and cooking, and I’ve always loved cooking. As a little girl, I had an easy bake oven where you could bake a 4-inch cake with a light bulb in about an hour. I loved it. I was always geared to go into the food industry in some way or shape.”

Buying the franchise was a handshake deal. “It was run by an old boy’s club. Even though the agreement was between my ex-partner/husband and I together, only he was invited to the meetings and discussions. At the time, I thought, ‘I guess this is how it has to be until we own the store.’ When I think back to those guys and how they do business, it’s like, ‘no wonder they didn’t want any extra people or a woman at the table.’ They wouldn’t have been able to have meetings at certain places or have certain discussions. I say I’m a tom boy through and through, but I’m still a woman. In the early 80s, society really put females and males in different boxes. If you were female, you were assigned pink – but I don’t like pink, I like red! If I naturally want it and like it, I’ll have it, but if you tell me I appear this way, it doesn’t mean I’m just going to fit into a box. It was only in the last few years that I became ok with pink.’”

When Diana and her ex bought the franchise, they had 3 stores to choose from. “They were dog stores meaning none of them were performing well. They were poorly run, dirty party places. We chose one that was doing less than $5k a week. Every week, the old boys had regular meetings with the managers, only guys, and everyone knew everyone’s sales. This was now around 1993/94 and we had increased sales within 4 months to more than $11k a month by putting in place operational efficiencies that didn’t previously exist. My then partner/ex was the golden boy to the corporate old boys, but it was my work, too. I made a grid system of the map for the drivers – I was a driver, too and I was the one training them.”

The deal had been that @dianas_cucina_and_lounge and her ex would run the store for 6 months, they’d agree on a price and the store would be theirs. “After 6 months, we kept getting pushed off and we wanted to talk numbers. They had done it for someone else, so we thought they’d do it for us. Sales were at $14k a week and labor and food costs were in line. Finally, my then partner was able to corner them and pressure them to sit down – I wasn’t at the meeting, but they told him that now it was worth too much and they couldn’t sell it to us. They asked if we wanted it for $250k. We were invested in it. It was ours. We felt very betrayed that they didn’t honor their part of the deal. We had made their corporation money during that period. We had just bought a house and had no intention of moving. But it was a good thing it didn’t work out this way. The franchise model is a box, and I’m not meant to be in a box.”

Diana and her ex left the franchise and made another handshake deal with some ex-corporate chain guys. “We would be the 3rd store and grow together, bringing our expertise. We took out a loan and bought the contents of an existing pizzeria. Within 6 months of opening and operating, we were doing more sales in our 1 store than the other 2 combined. Sometimes people, when they are faced with a competitor and they aren’t willing to grow and learn, want to attack the competition and bring them down. The next thing we knew, we were being told we used too much cheese, the wrong pepperoni, etc. Our agreement was never formalized through a lawyer, though it was supposed to be. After 18 months, we received a cease-and-desist letter. It was a bogus franchise agreement from their lawyer, who has since been disbarred. It was literally a copy of another pizza chain’s franchise agreement. We were told to sign it and send it back, but when we read it, it had nothing to do with anything we ever talked about. Since we incorporated as our own entity, the only common thing we had was a phone number. They realized we weren’t going to play ball. As men, they wanted to dictate everything including how we can only grow the way they are growing.”

One day, @dianas_cucina_and_lounge and her ex arrived at work, only to realize their phone lines were redirected to one of the other stores. “Sometimes crappy things happen, and you try to get through it and you don’t try to hold onto all of the details. We went from doing really healthy sales – $9-10k a week, to less than $1k. We were pick-up and delivery only. They weren’t telling my customers that the pizzas were coming from another location, and they weren’t telling people to pick up from the other store. We had to come up with a new name very quickly with no cash flow and very angry customers. This was before the internet – before email and social media.”

When Diana and her then partner needed to come up a name, they went back to their University marketing textbooks. “It was all about the logo, image, and branding, which was terrible advice unless you’re big. We came up with the name Pizza Stop which was cute and gimmicky. We quickly changed to new menus and did our best for direct marketing with mail outs to let people know. But it still went on for months and months where people would call the wrong phone number and show up for their order.”

At this time, within a 5km radius of Diana, there were over 20 different pizza places operating and competing. “Here we are trying to relaunch our and gain our customers back and up the street, there’s a place with stop in the name, so people are starting to confuse us. When people wanted to refer us to their friends, they would inadvertently get the other one. We kept at it, but those were grueling years. I studied marketing and direct marketing and found a couple of different mentors. I wanted to learn as much as I could, especially what’s important if you’re only one store. One mentor said, ‘nobody cares about your logo except your mom. It’s only after you’ve made it.’ I programmed a computer database so my background in computer programming came in handy. This was before POS systems were a thing.”

By 2003-2004 @dianas_cucina_and_lounge and her then partner had conducted all of their research. “We had done all of this different marketing. We sent a blank, anonymous survey on behalf of a fictional entity to see where we fell in with other pizzerias. Some of our best customers filled it out not realizing we were pizza stop. Our quality was setting us apart, but people couldn’t distinguish our logo. Pizza Stop doesn’t reflect the top-quality ingredients we were using. The pepperoni we get is close to $6 a pound. I could get 50 cent pepperoni, but I wouldn’t feed that to my cat because of what’s in it. We decided we needed to change our name to something more personal, and Diana’s Gourmet Pizza was born.”

Diana and her then partner gave people a heads up when the change was happening. “Now the name matched what people could expect from quality. A year later, I started winning awards and I launched my pizza competing career. I went to Las Vegas, Italy, New York, and Ohio. I’m a lifetime learner, so I took the Italian pizza certification course with @capopizza. I was the only woman there. I went to the American Institute of Baking and took their pizza production course in 2006. They asked me to come back and be a speaker in 2007 in a gourmet course. I was a guest speaker for 3 years.”

There was a lot of push and pull at this time in Diana’s life. “I realized by reading and studying marketing and belonging to different restaurant marketing groups, that I couldn’t run the business and grow the business. The restaurant business is not a business of 1. You need a good team. You’re quickly going to run out of energy and time.”

In the restaurant industry there can be high turnover, so @dianas_cucina_and_lounge and her team created an interview structure that helped them build a stronger and more stable team. “There’s a learning curve on how to bring in the right people and interview. We have an information application kit on our website. It’s 3 pages of reading about what you can expect from us and what we expect from you. There are 4 pages you fill out and what we found was that it’s self-weeding. It was too much work for 80% of the people coming in with resumes. If that’s too much work for you, then you don’t belong on this side of the counter. Everything we do is from scratch, so I need people who really want to work with their hands and bodies. I ask what their expected salary, hourly wage, and availability are. You’d be surprised how many people say they want M-Th, 9-3. It’s like, ‘did you check the website? We’re not even open then.’ But the cream floats to the top. At that point you can schedule an interview and we have a standard form we follow.” Diana has found that anytime they veer away from this system, they regret it. “Before, we had what I call Academy Award Interviews. They would tell you everything you want to hear, then, you hire them and make all of these commitments that just fizzle.”

Diana’s Gourmet Pizza was a 900sq ft pick-up/delivery spot with 3 bakers pride ovens and they were outgrowing the space. “Sales had grown close to $16k a week. We had 18 staff including drivers and we couldn’t fit anymore. This was before 3rd party delivery. We started looking at new spaces and we had some false starts, which you don’t realize until you’ve started down the path. We built the new store and went to Middleby Marshall to test out our recipe in their ovens. On average, you have to spend 40-50 hours training an oven tender, so we wanted something that would guarantee a more consistent bake and involve less training. We built a new location 5 minutes south of our existing location and opened in December 2007. I still love the location. It was built to last. We had beautiful stainless steel equipment and fiberglass wall coverings.”

In 2011, @dianas_cucina_and_lounge and her then partner took over the space next door, built a restaurant, and expanded into dine-in. Then, in 2013, her then-partner, who had also become her husband, unexpectedly stepped away from the business. “I had a 6-month-old and 3.5 year old. It was always part of the plan – work the business, grow the business. We had a team and everyone could fill in different roles and grow so my day to day was oversight. When my ex stepped away, it was really really ugly. We had been through all of these difficulties together, so I always felt that if we fell out of sync with each other, we’d become one of those weirdo uncouples who were still good friends and partners. It didn’t go that way unfortunately, so I tried my best to run things for 9 months. My youngest was just over a year and I would have to bring him because I didn’t have care for him. I would be so drained and angry. I had these 2 perfect little faces looking at me and I just couldn’t take it anymore. My soul was telling me, ‘this isn’t right,’ so I made the very very very difficult decision to close my business and go through bankruptcy not knowing what was on the other side, just knowing there would be an end to this financial and physical and spiritual drain.”

Diana made the decision on her birthday. “I thought, ‘I’ll start again and I’ll rebuild.’ I didn’t want to do this for another 5 years. I knew 2 women who were going through something similar. They were husband and wife partners that had big falling outs and suddenly the whole foundation that they had spent their whole life building was crumbling and gone. I had the hard thought, ‘what am I fighting for? A year from now I could be ½ a mil in lawyer fees, for what? To prove this should be mine? In the meantime, I’m being destroyed physically, mentally, and spiritually. My children need me.’ I had waited so long in my life and now I had become a mother and I felt like that was being ripped away. When you’re so angry because all this bullshit is happening, it’s so hard to be a momma. I knew bankruptcy was really ugly and nasty, but at least it would have an end.”

@dianas_cucina_and_lounge had always been very deliberate about stability. “Here I am deciding that it’s better to set sail and figure it out until I can land again safely. I never knew if I’d be in the restaurant industry again. I locked the door and burst into tears. I gave it up divine to the universe. ‘if it is meant to be mine, guide me, and I will listen, and I will gladly take this back.’ The good thing about bankruptcy is that it takes a long time for it all to happen. In that time, I was building my relaunch. I made phone calls and listened to intuition. 6 months later, we reopened in the same location with new partners. I bought the contents through auction sale. There were still brown envelopes telling me I was in shit, but I was building a new life at the same time. It was very tumultuous, but I kept in sight what was really important to me: a house for my babies and I, income, and stability not dependent on someone else. I was disbanded from my bankruptcy in 2015, and I’m happy to say that I bought a house in 2020. One step in front of the other.”

Today, Diana oversees an incredible and successful business while remaining an important member of the pizza industry. “I still judge. I still very much love that pizza is my legacy. A lot of my day-to-day is administrative – marketing, phone calls, emails, some ordering, reviewing new products, interviewing/hiring. I’m lucky that I don’t need to be on the floor every day. Pre-pandemic I was doing tasting nights regularly to test new creations. We’d do pizza and paint nights and pizza making classes. The pandemic set so much of it down and the whole world changed form.”

Though she’s an accomplished pizzaiola, Diana doesn’t always immediately get the recognition she deserves. “When I go places, I don’t wear a sign that says, ‘award-winning pizzaiola,’ and I’ve had old school guys come in and ask if my dad is around. It says so much about the person, not me. How people treat me is a reflection of how they are where they are in their journey. And sometimes in competitions, people are appointed as judges because they need to fill seats, but I’m here because I know.”

@dianas_cucina_and_lounge is also a member of her city council. “When I show up to different board meetings and training events, people don’t realize I have all of this business experience. I’ve been in meetings with members from other municipality’s and they’ll make the connection and go, ‘oh, you’re that Diana!’ and want to know more. If I come in guns blazing and trying to prove myself, I might be off-putting, plus I don’t feel a need to prove myself. Someone once said, ‘oh, you used to be a big deal, and I looked at him and said, ‘does that mean I’m not as talented as I was because I should be more so because I continue to develop myself.’”

Diana wants to be accepted as she is. “I’m not saying I’m better than a man. I love this and I want to play in this space, too. I can remember the early days when I was competing and they were like, ‘all the great chefs are men.’ Right now, this is what I really feel I should be doing. A lot of guys were very kind and respectful and appreciative of my skills and what I was bringing to the table, and there were some that were projecting and undermining. Years ago, I won this second award and publications called me ‘Canada’s Pizza Queen.’ People would call me, ‘Canada’s Pizza Princess,’ and I’d correct them and say, ‘I’m not a princess, I’m a queen.’ Queens run empires, queens have armies. That’s how I identify.”

For other women out there, @dianas_cucina_and_lounge‘s advice is simple. ‘Follow your heart. Tune into your heart. I meditate every day and it’s something I wish I started 20 or 30 years ago. Always trust that gut instinct and divine feminine energy running through you. When you tune into that and let it flow into you, you will rarely get steered wrong. It doesn’t mean there won’t be difficult patches and rough waters, but it’s how you get through it. Trust in that higher self of you. And because of what I’ve been through, always keep your own bank account. In business, have that exit clause. It needs to be a legal document. It’s important to talk about those conversations ahead of time.”

Diana’s boys are now 10 and 13 and they have a strong mom to look up to. “I took my time and I’m glad I did. I’m an older mom and I see the world differently and I’m much more comfortable in my own skin and more likely to stand in my own power than be pushed along in someone else’s agenda.” Diana is authentic, exuberant, and resilient. She’s many things – a columnist, international culinary competition winner, author, judge, consultant, and mother. She’s open, honest, and exemplifies standing in your power. Next time you’re in Winnipeg, reach out to Diana to grab a slice and talk all things business and pizza!

Owner/Master Pizzaiola


Toronto, CANADA

Toronto, CANADA

Though Diana grew up around pizza, she never thought she’d end up in the industry. “I always thought I’d end up in the corporate world, which I did. My parents had the business as their retirement project, but after a few years, they grew tired and when they had a buyer in mind, I figured it was my last opportunity to give it a go, so I said to them, ‘you should let me give it a try.’ Originally, my parents had built a business in hopes that my brother would take over, but he ultimately didn’t want to because he was into cars and that type of industry. I thought, ‘if he’s not into it, I can try it and see how it goes.’ This September, I’ll have officially been with the business for 7 years.”

Diana’s experience in the corporate world resulted in skills that would help her run a successful business. “I worked for a green energy company in Toronto and looked after the HR and accounting. I think the basics of running a business is HR and accounting, especially the bookkeeping, which I do myself now.” However, the transition from the corporate world to the food industry still had its challenges. “I took on a role at the counter first. My parents would try to teach me how to make pizza, but it wasn’t easy. My immigrant parents were really bad at giving me constructive criticism, so it took me a very long time to learn. Although my parents said they would retire, they continued to work in the business for 5 years, which meant that every decision I wanted to make, I had to convince them too.” One of those decisions was to turn away from being a cash only business. “I always had to convince them, ‘this is a good idea because…’”

When the pandemic began, Diana encouraged her parents to retire from Cici’s. “I said, ‘you should stay home because there’s a lot of risk,’ so they tried for the first few months but came back for the summer and said, ‘never do that to us again. That was a miserable time.’ As of last year, they stopped coming by. Last July, my mom said, ‘we’re leaving and we’re not coming here anymore.’ It turns out it was because her cancer had returned, but she never told any of us. She ultimately passed in November.”

Running a business is challenging, and Diana is honest and open to those she faces. “Learning how to maintain quality has been a challenge. The business went from me and my parents doing everything ourselves to having to trust and teach people to do it. How do we keep the recipe consistent? For the ingredients, I just prepare all the dry ingredients, so all my employees have to do is add water.

Maintaining delivery drivers is another major obstacle. It’s topsy turvy here with the economics. When Canada was paying out emergency relief benefits, we went from 100 applicants to 5.” Diana insists on hiring her own drivers because she hasn’t had the greatest experiences with third party services. “They drop too many pizzas and have too many problems. I’m kind of done with them. The first time I canceled uber eats, it was because they kept dropping pizzas. One time, someone came in with a bike and it was a large party sized order, so I said, ‘I don’t recommend you take this,’ and they left disgruntled and left Cici’s a 1-star review on Google. People have said Uber Eats is the best of all of them, so my experience has not been encouraging for adding others.”

Over the years, Diana’s focus has evolved from trying to know everything and being a part of the daily operations to the future. “Now, I’m focused on, ‘how do we move this forward?’ and ‘what do we need to do to be more efficient?’”

At Cici’s, Diana serves pizza and wings. “I keep the wings going because it’s tradition. Back in the day, they had pizza and wing joints, but a lot of pizzerias are moving away from wings now. I don’t try to push it.”

The pizza industry in Canada is very different from the industry in America. “There’s no camaraderie. I have no friends in the pizza business. And the other thing is, it’s all guys. It’s a chef or someone that used to work in the pizza section of a restaurant and then they open their own place and blow up. Most people blow up because of exclusiveness. A lot do unique pizzas each week. Last week there were so many ramps on dishes in Toronto. People are doing all sorts of crazy different pizzas. I sometimes wonder, if I’m not following a trend, should I be? At the base of it, I’ve always said, ‘this is our pizza.’ It was always established that we do a bread recipe for our dough and usually a marinara sauce. In the Canadian scene, the bread is crust is very common, but in the US, I find that it’s different. They have a completely different recipe.”

Diana’s pizza is consistent and she’s careful about what flavors and ingredients she experiments with. “Our best pizzas are the basics. Pepperoni is our best seller. Last night I took 5 orders in a row that all had pepperoni. Every now and then we add a new topping, so we’re adding zucchini soon.”

Cici’s has been around for decades, but where the name comes from remains a mystery. “The name Cici’s was always there. A family sold it to a family who sold it to a family who sold it a family who sold it to my parents. And it’s crazy because it’s always been Vietnamese families. We have a big Vietnamese diaspora out here. I’ve seen pho pizza and it’s not done well, but I can see a bahn mi pizza being done well, though I think you lose the essence of both when you combine them. I wanted to do this fusion pizza challenge on Instagram, and I thought of doing this Vietnamese dish that is sausage stewed in tomato soup which I thought that could be amazing on a pizza, but I never got around to making it because there were things that kept coming up at work.”

Diana’s favorite part of the business? “The people. I really like the community we’re in. I’ve watched the kids in these families grow up. I’ve seen them come in on strollers and now they’re going to University. It’s so mind blowing every time. Some families throughout Covid ordered the same orders, and now their kids are out of the house and their orders are smaller. When I had to move our business, I had to make sure that I moved within the same neighborhood, because I have to find a way to serve these people forever. Our new location is only 50 meters away from the original.”

Moving a business can be daunting, and for Diana, the hardest part was dealing with the contractors. “My biggest pain points were working with contractors. I finally found a group of guys or individual contractors that I like to work with. For a long time, I didn’t have that.

While Diana has faced bias, she’s managed to create an inclusive and empowering environment for her employees at Cici’s. “The other thing is that I have to repeat myself all the time. Yes, the owner is me and I identify as she. It’s so interesting because a lot of the inside staff are women or trans, and two men. The delivery drivers are always dudes. There’s only one guy who does prep and one who does pizza and everyone else identifies as she or a they. It’s really cool! It’s the best environment. Everyone has everybody’s back and it’s really clean. Not to be ageist or otherist, but I feel like in my case, I just have not worked well with older men, and they just don’t really respect me. I think women are on the rise in the industry. Why not work with women? We can do the same thing! I have 2 girls that I’ve hired that I’ve known since they were kids! They had asked me for jobs, and I’d tell them to wait until they reached an appropriate age. Younger people have no impression of what it was like to work in a pizza shop and were open to everything. One is 15 and she’s a baker and that used to be the most senior position in a pizzeria. They’re all so adaptable. You teach them and within the shift they’ve almost mastered a task.”

For Diana, management comes naturally. “I really thrive managing people. It’s difficult and tricky when you have different personalities, but once you know what this person is like you can manage them better. You have to find a way to provide that give and take relationship.”

However, promoting herself has not always come easily to Diana. “I used to never want anyone to know that I am the owner. ‘I was always afraid, or nervous of people coming to shit on me.’ ‘It doesn’t help that I’m a woman either.’ But one day it switched for me, and I decided I needed to get my words out there. I knew that my core customers knew who I was. Now, I think it’s part of the brand. It was so important for me to get into the neighborhood events. I wanted to be more than just someone who sells pizza. I want to be someone who hosts events, fosters growth, and provides space. It’s more important to me than clout. I never really talked about it until the recent Toronto Star article.”

Back in March, Diana got to share her passion with a young generation of girls. “I recently got asked to talk about my career at career day for little girls in March. It was really cool that they would even ask me to do that. We’re in a neighborhood where everyone knows who I am. When the girls saw it was me, they were so excited! I want to keep helping. We donate to the local foodbank every week. I’m also going to host a market with the goal of promoting local artisans and highlight the food bank’s initiatives in September to celebrate 7 years.”

For other women out there, Diana’s advice is to lean on your resources and make friends. “I have a friend who has a donut shop, and she gave me a lot of advice on what to do. I don’t come from a restaurant background, but she has a fine dining one. She showed me the ropes. I think it’s also important to find other women in the restaurant world and stick around and learn from them. They are the ones who guided me and shared contacts with me.”

When it comes to the future, Diana is unsure of what she wants. “I recently started therapy and really work on discovering who I am as a person. I had a really tough two years and I’m finally arriving at a point of peace in my life, so I’m not sure what direction I’d like to go yet.”

Diana is honest, compassionate, and tenacious. “I work all the time, but I don’t want it to stop because I love it.” She took a chance by switching careers and she’s proof that it’s worth the risk. An integral part of her community, Diana is continuing her mom and dad’s legacy while also adding her own identity to the business. Next time you’re in Toronto, make sure you stop by Cici’s for a slice and to talk all things pizza with Diana!

Founder/Master Pizzaiola


Waseca, MN

Waseca, MN

For almost 20 years, Emily’s known she wanted a pizza farm. “I went to my first one when I was 21. It was in Wisconsin, where I grew up. I grew up on a hobby farm, but this was on an actual farm with lots of acres and gardens and animals. I learned that these people basically lived off their land, like Mennonites, but without the religion. I loved being able to walk around their farm and the ability to bring my favorite bottle of wine. I remember thinking, ‘I want to own one someday,’ but I never said anything because what a weird thing!”

Today, Emily lives on a 50-acre hobby farm with her husband Bill. The farm includes a 13-acre homestead and 3 pastures. “Bill and I met when we were 29. He had bought the farm, which was originally on 90 acres, when he was 24 with his then-wife, Emily – a different Emily! – and built the house and barn. The barn was built as a horse barn because she had horses. When they split, Bill had to sell 40 acres. The land is all in a protected program, meaning it’s not crop land. It’s basically owned by the government, and you pay taxes on it.”

When Emily and Bill got together, she lived 90 minutes away in Red Wing on the Mississippi River. “I came down one Friday night after we had been together about 8 months and he said, ‘I think I’m going to do a wedding barn.’ I had been working weddings and banquets for 6 years, so I was like, ‘I don’t think so – I don’t think that’s something you want to get into, or, no offense, are capable of doing.’ I said to him, ‘if you do that, I’m out.’ But then I asked him, ‘what about a pizza farm?”

Like me, Bill had never heard of a pizza farm. “I told Bill to come to Red Wing that week because there was this pizza farm there that was only open on Tuesdays. At first, he was like, ‘I don’t know. I’m not really interested,’ but by Sunday he decided we should go. We were there for only 15 minutes before he was like, ‘oh my god, I could do this.’ The one in Red Wing started out as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). They baked bread and pastries, but they had a wood-fired oven, so they decided to make pizza to make a little more money when customers came to pick up their stuff. They never put out any signs or did any advertising. They would sell 400 pizzas on a Tuesday night. I think they might be closed now because they were older. Today, when people open a pizza farm, they follow the rules of no advertising. We have clean farms where everyone takes their own trash. Pizza farms started out as BYOB until Wisconsin made a law that doesn’t allow that anymore. Now you need to buy from the farm.”

Since Emily is in MN, the BYOB law doesn’t apply to her. Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm opened in 2015 and from the moment Bill was on board in 2013, Emily was ready. “Right away I was excited. I started walking around the barn and thinking, ‘ok, if we do this where would we build a kitchen in here? Where would the ovens go?’ We looked at our 3 pastures and thought, ‘ok, this would be the parking lot because this is where the driveway comes in, this middle one we’ll keep, and the third comes out of the barn which makes it perfect for a dining area.’ Building the kitchen was great because Bill and his dad were in construction and carpentry. The hard parts were the fine details of getting food and health and planning and zoning involved. We thought, ‘how are we going to be licensed as a business, period?’ Food and health said we needed certified ovens, so Bill researched, and we now have 2 Forno Bravos. Within our second year we got the second one.”

With everything in place at Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm, the next learning curve was learning to meet demand. “We’d have over a 2 hour wait and we weren’t even busy then. 1, we didn’t even know what we were doing and 2, we originally had 1 oven. We bought a bigger oven and learned how to streamline. It was a 2-year process. Bill really focused on the dough and the sauce. We made a lot of changes to the sauce. At one point, people would say, ‘oh, there’s chicken stock in the sauce? I can’t have it, I’m vegan.’ Dialing it in and making sure most people could eat it was a big process. I always wonder about comparing our 1st sauce to our current one.”

With key elements dialed in, Emily created the pizzas. “I came up with the flavors and made sure it left everyone needing that next bite. I was literally researching ingredients to make sure their profiles matched. No offense to places that just throw stuff on there, I just want it to be memorable and phenomenal. Our most popular, because we are in the Midwest, is the Pig and Pork. It’s red sauce, sausage, pepperoni, and green olive. Our #2 is the Pig and Pork without green olives. You can’t make this shit up. Or it’s 1/2 green olive. The favorite of the people who come here a lot and have tried all of our pizzas is the Sweet Georgia Pie. It has garlic infused EVOO, garlic seasoning, prosciutto, honey, goat cheese, and a little mozzarella to bind it all together. We top it with fresh arugula that we grow, and it has this sweet, salty, and umami flavor. It’s everything – the tartness of the goat cheese, too! If I’m at the front desk or going over the menu with a customer, I’m like, ‘I can’t exactly tell you what it tastes like, so you have to trust me,’ and 9/10 times they come back and tell me, ‘You’re right! I loved it and I can’t describe it.’”

Emily’s personal favorite is the Mediterranean style. “It has basil infused olive oil, fresh basil, kalamata olives, tomatoes, shredded mozzarella, and fresh mozzarella.” Her runner up is the Buster. “There’s a theme here, and you’re getting it. I don’t like red sauce. This has wild mushrooms, sage infused olive oil, garlic seasoning, sausage, caramelized onions, fresh mushrooms, basil, shredded mozzarella, and fresh mozzarella.”

Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm grows as many ingredients as they can for their pizzas. “I grow basil, tomatoes, green onions, garlic, arugula, peppers – we have a supreme pizza so lots of peppers – herbs like mint and sage, and beets. We do a weekly feature and, in the fall, when our garden is abundant, I’ll use what’s accessible like beans, zucchini, and spaghetti squash. I tried potatoes but they were hard. We also grow pumpkins for the fall. Oh, and so many different types of hot peppers: jalapenos, habaneros, etc. We’ll have them sliced and they can add them to any pizza. We have watermelon this year, but we don’t really sell it. I just put it out and let people take it because there’s so much. I guess we also have Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli. Plus, sunflowers. Last year we started doing a lot of flowers. I’m going to have a flower section as well. I can’t monitor the garden. If someone’s out there and they take a tomato, I can’t stop them. We’ve had customers go and take fresh basil. We also let someone put bee boxes on our land and they make honey. We have staff that help us, since I don’t garden – I have too much other stuff to do!”

Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm has been Emily’s sole focus since 2020. “March 17th, 2020, I stopped doing event planning. I don’t know if you remember that date! I was the Event Manager for a Holiday Inn Banquet Center and they said to go home, and I just had this feeling that I was never going back there. Covid was actually a benefit for us because we are outdoor dining, and you bring your own everything. It was very safe for everyone and that was when our takeout really took off. We were featured in the New York Times food section and that was awesome for us. We were on a cooking show on the Magnolia Network, and they came and filmed here. It was kind of a conversation like, ‘ok, you lost your job, but we have these two huge media spotlights. Do we take it and run with it?’”

Emily and Bill ran with it and throughout Covid, their numbers increased. “I was ready for it to be honest because being the owner of the business, you do everything from finances to marketing to scheduling to hiring to firing to creating pizzas to being the operations manager. I was ready to submerse myself into being here full time. It’s still really hard, but I enjoy it. My phone goes off literally every 5 minutes – there’s an email, or staff, or an event, or a donation. We added a mobile unit last year and have a ton of events scheduled. I booked us for more private events, breweries, and wineries. This year, I have more staff than we’ve ever had. Four people said they are coming back from the past. Our mobile unit staff and farm staff have some crisscross. I’ve created a schedule so that the mobile goes out and we sell from 4-8pm. Bill manages the mobile unit and I stay here and manage the farm. Keeping it super simple works the best. This year I was a lot pickier about what we do. A part of the learning process is that you cannot just say yes to everything. Our kitchen staff comes Tuesday and Wednesday and our dough gal comes Wednesday-Sunday. She makes dough fresh every morning and afternoon and preps it for the mobile, too. We do somewhere around 500 pizzas a weekend between mobile, the farm, and takeout and delivery to a brewery.”

Over the years, Emily and Bill have learned to do things their way. “People ask us, ‘what’s your style?’ It’s very thin, like crispy, crackery, but we roll the crust. People are always asking us if we’re going to compete, but it dawned on me that, ‘Bill, we can never do this because we use a rolling pin to roll out our dough.’ That’s how green Bill and I were! I suppose I got a rolling pin because that’s what my mom would use, and our pizzas are 16 inches. Apparently, there’s a way to do it, but we never learned it. And now, that’s the way we taught our staff.”

Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm is 90 minutes south of Minneapolis. “Most of our customers are from Minneapolis. We open from 4-8 to take orders. People wait 2-3 hours for pizza. But how do you not fall in love with it? You get to bring your own chair, you can bring a vase of flowers, you can do everything – from a simple blanket on the ground to a beautiful set up. I love it. I love seeing people just gathering. Very rarely do you see people on cellphones. Kids aren’t on tablets. It’s a very safe place to be and chill and be a part of nature and connect with one another. We have walking trails and live music. Each pizza farm is a little different and offers different things.”

The live music has proven to be a huge hit at Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm. “We decided to dive into live music because Bill really loves music and people have absolutely loved it, especially since it’s outdoors and people would rather sit outside and enjoy music. You don’t find that as much around here. We book a lot of Folk Americana music which is very fitting.”

Emily has hopes to continue expanding and offering unique experiences. “People don’t really have a frame of reference. There’s no paradigm because we’re so unique. I don’t want to become known as a private event space. I want to remain a pizza farm. We make more money being open to the public but I would love to build a pavilion so we can host private events. I’d love a second mobile unit and I would love, love, love – I am going to have it someday – a collaborative cooking show. There’s a production company in town nearby, but my grant didn’t come through this time. I’m not giving up on it. I do have a handful of guests that are going to collaborate. One is a beef farmer, so I’ll use her beef and create a pizza. She’ll come and I’ll interview her, and we’ll make it together. We only grow when we work together. Financially, where would some of these ideas take us? We have to understand what is financially best for the business and if it’s not right for the current moment, put it on the shelf, and it may be right in the future.”

As a woman in pizza, Emily has faced some micro-aggressions. “When we were in Las Vegas, there was a guy who called me as we were leaving our 1st day of the Expo and said, ‘I’m glad you’re there. Now, you can see how small you are.’ He’s also a man, so men can say this stuff. I can be a mouthy person, but in that moment, and maybe because I’m a woman, I was waiting for him to say, ‘you know, because I realize that when I go to Expo,’ – something humbling. And then he tells me that I need to stay somewhere better and he’s listing recommendations and dropping names of steakhouses and saying, ‘oh, my friend owns it, but you probably can’t get in. if you want me to make you a phone call, I can probably get you in tonight.’ He has done that since the conception of Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm. He’s been there several times and he likes our pizza, but he would never talk to Bill that way.” Luckily, for the most part, things have been going really well for Emily. “I think because we are so unique and quiet out here, I just haven’t necessarily run into a lot of misogynistic men. It’s been good!”

Emily’s advice is to not be afraid to ask questions. “My biggest thing is to take advantage of all the resources. There are all these agencies that are here to help you and guide you. You shouldn’t be afraid of your health department or planning or zoning. There are going to be tough times, but you must push through it. Don’t quit and don’t give up because there are plenty of people out there who want to help and share their knowledge. I want to share what I’ve learned so that it’s easier for you. Small business is very important. We need small businesses of every kind in every community to make the community work.”

Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm is a special place. It’s a pizza farm on 50 acres of land in southern MN that makes woodfired pizza out of their barn where people dine in what was once a horse pasture while enjoying live music, walking along trails, seeing animals (they have a llama, alpaca, and goats), and soaking up lots of sunshine. You bring your own tables, chairs, beverages, snacks, treats, desserts, trash bags, and games and hang out with your friends and family. And Emily’s staff have become her friends. “I don’t have to go out anywhere anymore. We close at 8 and are cleaned up by 8:30/9 and get drinks and hang out. So many different people work for us. We’re all from different walks of life and we can just sit and be together without judgement. We’ll be hanging out in the barn, and customers will come up to us and say, ‘this is the best pizza I’ve ever had!’ I can’t even comprehend how we make the best pizza people have ever had. We’re all just nobodies who have never been in the pizza industry. We’re just us!” But as Emily and Bill say, “Pizza is literally for everyone. It’s the most magical food that covers all spectrums!”

Emily is bold, eager, and sincere and the farm is an extension of her. She’s proof that being true to yourself and your dreams pays off. She’s fostered an environment of inclusivity, warmth, and joy, that draws people from all over. Next time you’re in MN, head to Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm to share a slice with Emily and experience this truly unique dining experience yourself!

Owner/Master Pizzaiola


Santiago, CHILE

Santiago, CHILE

While Javiera has always loved food, she always thought she’d come to the food industry professionally later in life. “I have an Italian family (my Nonna comes from Naples and my Nonno comes from the north coast), and we’ve been making pasta and pizza forever. It was the reason we came together. All my cousins and family have studied things related to food and hotels except for me. I’ve loved it since I was very young, but I thought I would be in the food industry when I was very old.”

It seems like kismet that Javiera found her way to it earlier in life. “Before, I had a few companies with a partner, but they ended when the pandemic hit. I told my family, ‘I don’t know what do now.’ I had worked as a tele-producer for companies like Live Nation and Cirque du Soleil from the time I was 18. It was fun to work on concerts and be a producer. My job was to make the talent’s life easy in Chile. I’d handle passports, dinners, hotels, documentation at the airport for their private flights, coordination, logistics, etc. I worked in TV for a lot of years, but emotionally, it was a lot. When you begin very young, you get to a point where you want to change your life.”

For Javiera, this desire for change led her to start 4 companies in 2015. “One was focused on agriculture, one was around real estate, one was for logistics, and one was about selling healthy food to retailers. But on the side, I always made bread and pizza for fun. I did a lot of courses just to prepare a good product at home. In 2020, when the pandemic hit and I had to close my companies, my family said to me, ‘you should do what you’ve always done for fun!’”

Javiera took their advice and studied with an AVPN instructor. “I did a 10-day class with him online during the pandemic. The pandemic gave me that time to study and I really fell in love with pizza and the history, the industry, the world, the capacity to get to know a lot of people, and the fun. You can really collaborate online. Last year, I took it more seriously and created a brand called DOU Pizza (pronounced ‘dough’). We make pizza, pasta – it really gives us no limit. I wanted to make it a brand and not use my name so that it doesn’t depend and center only on me. Now, we are 6 girls making pizza and running a catering service. We teach classes for fun to people and companies. That’s our business here. I’m happy doing what I do right now which is service and making people have an experience.”

Pizza has always been a popular food in Chile, but the styles have evolved thanks to the pandemic. “The Santiago pizza scene is really big since the pandemic. There was explosive growth. The pandemic helped the Neapolitan style a lot. Everyone has Oonis here, so they began to have their own little business, or their pizzeria changed to Neapolitan. Now, Neapolitan is the most popular style. Before, there were a lot of pizzerias, but we only ate pizzas that were American. Chile has a lot of big chains like Little Ceasar’s, but we don’t have New York style. Now, Pizza in Teglia is getting a little famous. People really like it because it’s crunchy and different.”

Javiera is focused on bringing other styles and cultures to Chile. “I want to have a lot of options. I want to bring this Neapolitan culture in general – not just the pizza but the stories and information. The part that opens people’s eyes in class is when you talk about the history or some piece of information they didn’t know. I went to AVPN in Naples last year. I had been trained online and I thought, ‘now I have to go there.’ I stopped in Miami on my way to Naples and visited some Neapolitan pizzerias and recorded my visits to make a little interview for YouTube. I just studied online with Massimo Saieva and more than the recipe, I asked him the when and where of Roman style pizza. It’s a story to tell and what I’d really like is to bring that history here and get together with people who didn’t get together before. I went to Buenos Aires where there’s a big industry in pizza and made videos to show people where they can go. I just went to AVPN in Atlanta in June and afterwards, to NYC to make this “pizza tour” that I did and recorded in each place. I went to Las Vegas last year, competed, got 15th in Neapolitan S.T.G., and learned a lot. I took Tony Gemignani‘s Master Class, I admire him a lot, and want to bring Sicilian, Grandma, and NY style pizza here. I took the master class to have information from him, and now I’m cooking some pizzas to make videos and add to catering. The videos are another side for the brand. I’m a producer in my profession. I know how to record and edit. I’ve always done it, so I thought, ‘how can I combine this with pizza?’”

Javiera’s travels have made her aware of cultural preferences. “At DOU, we offer very traditional Italian toppings and some that are very suited to Chile. We have gotten very used to Pizza Hut and American toppings, so we try to offer the best of both worlds. In Chile, we love pepperoni, so we couldn’t not offer pepperoni on our pizza. In the catering service, we think the client is the most important person and want to make them happy with the pizzas they like. But you adapt depending on what country or culture you are in and what the people love.”

In Chile, the pizza industry is not collaborative…yet. “Making a really cool team is the most important part for me right now. I’m trying to create a team that goes and competes in other places. We have had more than 500 students in Napoletana. I have a WhatsApp group where we talk a lot and help beyond the class. I’m making another type of class where I help them learn how to make dough balls really fast and I teach them how to put pizzas in the oven fast, how to stretch in a more professional way, how to turn the pizza in the oven – all the critical parts of the pizza process to make them better and prepare for a future Chilean team.”

As a woman, Javiera has found that she has been highly respected in Chile. “Being a woman has a had a very big effect in a positive way. They don’t have any problems with me because I don’t have any problems with anyone…or because I’m a girl. It’s helped. In some funny ways, when I went to Naples with a little camera, they’d see me and be like, ‘you can come here.’ When there are too many guys there, they come and are nice to me. Now, when I went to Naples after Las Vegas, I saw a big change. ‘She’s a girl but she’s also good. She can make a good pizza.’ The attitude is absolutely different, but I won it because of my work and not because of my gender.”

Javiera’s advice for others is “to be true to yourself. Don’t try to adapt to their world. Just be you. Study a lot. Learn a lot. I’m never going to stop learning. Even in a basic class you might still learn something. Just keep learning and share information. That makes us different and makes a difference. I think at the end of the day I see that there is a big community that wants to have a good relationship and share information. I’m making this whole team and now I’m not always going to the catering service because I’m teaching classes. I’m making this so they can be by themselves at DOU. I need time to keep learning and if you try to do everything at some point you will fail. I want to create a team so we can keep growing. I’m learning right now because I made the mistake years ago not delegating. I got very sick in 2015 and my body just collapsed because I thought I could do everything. Now, I’m taking another position on delegating, so I don’t repeat the same thing I did before.”

As for the future, Javiera would love to continue teaching. “I would really love to have an academy on Italian food – pasta, pastries, pizza… I’d love to have AVPN classes in Latin America and a place where they can make a connection and bring the real Naples to Chile. I would like to be on the side of a teaching academy and maybe a pizzeria someday. I don’t see myself doing the same thing every day, so I love the dynamic of working with different people and pizzerias. I want to be a part of the community and be free and in other countries.”

Javiera is proof that following your passion can lead to the most wonderful and unexpected results. “In general, the life I had before, in the business world with my companies, or with the lights of television and concerts, this was very different from where I am right now, and I couldn’t be happier.” Spirited, driven, and forward thinking, Javiera is creating a community that previously didn’t exist. She’s the first to share what she’s learned and eager to learn even more. Next time you’re in Santiago, make sure you reach out to Javiera to grab a slice and talk all things pizza!

Owner/Head Pizzaiola


Oceanside, NY

Don Antonio New York
Oceanside, NY

Meet Shannon Mangini (@thepizzaiola) of New York!

Growing up, Shannon never thought she’d end up working in food. “My dad had owned a sporting goods store that was mostly focused on tennis. I loved to go to work with him. Watching my dad in his element made me realize I wanted to be my own boss. I had an entrepreneurial mind, and I was interested in business. The natural path led to finance, so after attending the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business with a major in entrepreneurship, I went directly to Wall Street as an Investment Banker and later landed a corporate finance role at ESPN. While those two experiences were invaluable, I knew in my gut finance was not for me and I needed to find something I was passionate about. The thought of working the rest of my life in a career I disliked was terrifying.”

As an Italian and a New Yorker, food had always been a part of Shannon’s life. “Food is just what I think about. I grew up in a very Italian household where meals were always at the forefront. Lucky for me, both of my parents are excellent cooks, so I always had the best lunches at school. While some kids had bologna sandwiches, I would have something like chicken cutlet with mozzarella, roasted red peppers and balsamic on semolina bread. . Today, most of what I read and listen to is related to food and travel—especially when it comes to pizza. My dad and I were always searching for the best pizzerias well before there were lists telling you where to go, professional pizza tours, or ‘one bite’ reviews. We would evaluate each slice and talk about where they ranked on our favorites. My dad knew his stuff, so I was introduced to some of the best pizza in the country such as Totonno’s, Louie & Ernie’s, King Umberto, Johns, Lucali, L&B and Di Fara.”

It was kismet that @thepizzaiola found herself at DiFara. “I have these amazing memories of my dad bringing home DiFara. Instead of going to Brooklyn, he would call Margaret, who lived a town over, and ask her to bring a pie home. Whenever my parents visited me in college, I always wanted them to bring a Di Fara pie so I could get that taste of home.  When I left my finance job and started searching for my next chapter, my mind kept coming back to food and what a career in that industry could look like. My dad heard DiFara was opening a new location in Williamsburg and while I had no previous experience in restaurants, I knew this was something I could do and I was hungry to learn. I joined the team and did everything from washing dishes and making pizza to merchandising and planning private events and classes. I helped ownership with expansion efforts in the form of nationwide shipping, food trucks, festivals, and ghost kitchens. We even got to go to Australia to be part of the Melbourne Food & Wine festival where we teamed up with a local pizzeria for a collaboration. It was challenging and we hit some roadblocks, but we executed the three-day event and had a blast doing it.”

There’s always a learning curve when changing industries, but luckily, the finance and business world had provided Shannon with some preparation. “The most glaring part of the banking industry is that it comes with insane hours and unrealistic expectations. There was a point where I didn’t see family or friends for a month at a time. It’s similar to the hours you work in restaurants and prepared me for the grit you need in this industry. It’s long hours and a lot physically. You can have the best product in the world, but if you can’t manage a business, it’s not going to work. While it’s tough, it’s also invigorating. It reminds me of being on sports teams. Between front of house and back of house, it’s this beautiful dance that goes on between them. Sometimes people have to be utility players so they can fit in if someone can’t come in or pick up slack across all facets of the job. So, at DiFara I wore every hat possible..”

A big difference between the finance world and the restaurant world is structure.  In this industry, hours aren’t always set in stone. It’s more like breakable bounds. I’m getting more comfortable without having that structure. At my previous jobs I was told exactly what I was going to do. Within restaurants and pizzerias, you can have a little bit more say as you go in terms of how you’re going about your day and interacting with guests. There’s more flexibility in what you can bring to the table. You can be more creative and have fun. There was such strict structure at Morgan Stanley and ESPN that I find it very freeing to be in restaurants. I like having a voice. At Morgan Stanley and ESPN, I had felt like a cog in the wheel and just a number, but in restaurants I can participate in the vision of where the company is going and connect with people on a daily basis.”

It can be a scary loss of identity when you suddenly step away from what you’ve dedicated all your time and energy to. “In college, I played lacrosse, but senior year, I blew my knee out and had to get 5 surgeries. For a long time, my identity had been that I was an athlete and now that was taken away and I didn’t know who I was anymore. I went to the working world and wasn’t passionate about banking or corporate finance and it definitely showed. It’s hard to be all in when you’re not enjoying something.. Getting into the food world, I felt that passion again. It filled a gaping hole to be good at something in an industry I was and continue to be excited about.

After a few years at DiFara, @thepizzaiola was ready to broaden her experience. “I went on to work at a full-service restaurant in NYC as a floor manager. I learned a lot and while it was a tough job physically and the hours were long, it was rewarding and challenging. Unfortunately, after 8 months covid hit and like many others in our industry, I was suddenly out of a job. It didn’t take long before I got bored, so I turned to pizza. Once it was safe my dad and I started a pop-up pizza business and a frozen pizza route. We popped up at wineries and breweries throughout Long Island and delivered frozen pies to our accounts in the boroughs and Long Island. At some point most of the people in my family had worked these pop ups with us in some capacity. My dad and I were the main crew, but my brother, mom, cousins, uncles, and aunts contributed and saved the day many times. During this time when a lot of us were lost, pizza gave me purpose. Interacting with customers over my pizza was invigorating and brought a smile to my face. Getting to work with my family doing something I love was incredible and brought us all closer. At the end of the day, working with family has its challenges and even though it was hard, I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world.”

As the world opened back up, @thepizzaiola went on to work for Starr Restaurant Group as their Director of Special Projects & Pizza Concepts. “I was ecstatic and couldn’t believe I landed a role working for one of the top restaurant groups in the country. It was a dream come true as I had also frequented Starr Restaurants when I was a student in Philly. I worked there for a little over two years and learned so much about the industry and everything it takes to open a restaurant from concept ideation to the grand opening. I helped re-open some of their fine dining concepts in NYC that had closed due to Covid. Their attention to detail is unbelievable. When you have a business acumen and you take that fine attention to detail and apply it to a pizzeria, it’s a lot better off. The main reason I went to Starr was to help open pizzerias and develop pizza recipes. It was very dynamic. Some days I’d be in a blazer and other days I’d be head to toe in flour and an apron.”

Now, you can find Shannon working for OTG Management as the Senior Director of Partnerships & Brands. “OTG is an airport concessionaire, but what attracted me to them is that they are game changers. They are truly trying to elevate the food offerings at airports throughout the U.S. with local brand partnerships to bring in more diversity. In this role I not only incorporate what I have learned in business and finance, but I also get to utilize my knowledge of food and restaurants. I can talk on the culinary side and on the business side and analyze deals and licensing agreements. I do miss the culinary side, but I recently bought an Ooni and have been scratching the itch that way. For now, pizza is more of a side hustle, and I am hoping to start doing pop-ups again. Will I own my own pizzeria one day? I’m not sure, but what I do know is that pizza will always be a big part of my life.”

Working in so many different facets of the industry has impacted Shannon’s understanding of pizza. “Everyone thinks pizza is simple and it’s not. Dough is a scientific experiment every time you make it. There are chemical reactions happening. But pizza is so subjective. What people love and what they favorite is that corner shop they grew up with. It’s all tied to nostalgia. When people ask me my opinion, they think I’m being too critical but I’m so much more educated now than when I started in 2018. ”

Shannon faces criticism herself. “When I said I was going to switch careers, everyone around me, besides my wife, tried to convince me otherwise, and I think part of that was because I am a woman. I remember there was a little girl, maybe 4 or 5, who always used to come to DiFara with her father. One day she said, ‘girls don’t make pizza,’ and I went, ‘no, girls, absolutely make pizza. Don’t ever let someone tell you girls can’t.’ Society tells us who we can and can’t be from such a young age. I’ve had plenty of experiences where I’m not taken seriously because I’m a woman. Working in finance, it was a male-dominated culture. Even when my dad and I would negotiate deals with the breweries for our pop-ups, the way they would interact with him would be starkly different from me.  It is frustrating because I know my stuff, but some people just don’t want to take advice from a ‘young girl even when it was clear I had more experience.’ For me, Laura Meyer, Audrey Kelly, Giorgia Caporuscio, Nicole Russell, Leah Scurto all inspired me. I hope I’ve served as inspiration to that little girl or someone else as a tiny piece of their pizza journey.”

For other women out there, Shannon’s advice is tried and true. “Go for it. Be confident that if you put your mind to something, you can do it. If you don’t see yourself represented, don’t let that be a deterrent. Life is short, so take it from me and other people who have followed a passion, your life becomes so fulfilling. I’ve always listened to my gut, so forget about what you “should” do and all these expectations and have the confidence to do what you want.”

Following her passion didn’t come without sacrifices, but for Shannon, it was all worth it. “It was jarring going from a big salary to minimum wage, but I knew I had to start at the bottom. There are days where my job is a job, but on average, I wouldn’t trade this. I have friends who have also switched careers and industries because they saw what I did and now they are on their path. Knowing I influenced them in a positive way is so meaningful. The outside noise can be pretty overwhelming, and it probably held me from this industry for a little bit of time. Every day I think about how lucky I am, and I can’t wait to see where the journey takes me. Everyone, besides my wife, thought I was crazy. To me, crazy would be staying in something you know isn’t for you. Crazy is not following your dreams.”

Shannon is generous, honest, brave, and extremely hard working. She makes hard decisions, but leans into them, wholly trusting herself and her judgment. She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and is happy to share her knowledge with anyone who may be looking for help. She named a list of remarkable women who inspire her, and her name belongs alongside theirs. Next time you’re in New York, reach out to Shannon to grab a slice and talk all things taking risks, following your passion, and pizza!

Owner/Master Pizzaiola


San Diego, CA

San Diego, CA

Meet @vittoriatrupiano of @mangiaoceanside in San Diego!

Vittoria grew up in restaurants, so it was never a question if she’d make pizza, but rather a question of when. “My dad and grandpa have always had restaurants and I’ve worked in them since I was able to walk. I remember making my first pizza all by myself. I was about in 2nd grade and my dad put it in the oven for me.” Today, Vittoria is in the restaurant 5 days a week. She works as head server and a pizzaiola along side her father, Tore Trupiano. “He’s the head pizza guy, but I find my way to the station. If I’m the server and I made a pizza, I’ll say, ‘made by yours truly!’ A lot of our customers know the dynamic between me and my dad and they love it!”

Vittoria doesn’t just work with her dad, she works with her two siblings as well. “My younger brother is an aspiring pizzaiolo. He’s a bit slower than I am, but he’s doing a good job and I’m coaching him. My sister, who is 2 years older, does more of the bookkeeping, especially for my grandpa. She handles all the payroll and sends out the schedules. I think that we’re all easy going. We might get into little bickers, but never anything big.” Family businesses can be messy, but that couldn’t be further from Vittoria’s experience. “The restaurant is a really prolific part of our lives. We go home and we talk about the highlights of our workdays together. We bond over the experience. In general, it’s a big part of our lives, but it’s never impeded on our relationships. If anything, it’s made them stronger, especially with her father. The restaurant allowed us to spend time together and create a really good dynamic.”

Restaurants have been a Trupiano family business for decades. “My grandparents arrived from Sicily in January 1968. They settled themselves in Michigan and my grandpa opened his first pizzeria to establish himself. However, it was too cold there compared to the Sicilian summers they were used to, so they moved to Orange County, opened a restaurant there and then later to Oceanside. Today he owns a restaurant in Oceanside Harbor – Dominic’s at the Harbor, which he’s owned since 2000. The Trupiano Restaurant Group has owned a multitude of restaurants both in the U.S. and Sicily. The most recent in October 2018, Tore Trupiano opened @mangiaoceanside. We didn’t get our pizza oven until a year later because we had to do some construction. When we finally got it, I was fascinated and would always watch my dad make pizza. Incentivized by hunger and the irresistible Napoletana style pizza we have, I thought, ‘let me figure this out.’”

To figure it out, @vittoriatrupiano slowly started to insert herself in the pizza station. “I started self-implementing and before I knew it, I got really good at it! Then when my dad would go on trips with my mom, he’d go, ‘ok, you’re the pizzaiola.’ I’m a reliable sub for the restaurant. It’s fun and I really like the fast-paced nature of it – tickets rolling in, stretching dough, topping pizzas and watching the pizzas in the oven behind me.”

For Vittoria, pizza is creative freedom. “Pizza is the playground of the business. My sister’s handling the numbers and paying people out, but making pizza is where you can get creative and master your craft. It’s where you can concoct new flavors – sometimes they work out and sometimes not. It’s fun using your brain creatively. Serving is really fun, too. I really enjoy the hospitality that is instilled in me and thus has heightened my communication skills.”

Last year, @vittoriatrupiano went to her first Pizza Expo where she competed, showcasing her creativity. “My dad invited me, and I thought, ‘why not?’ The pizza I made won 4th overall in the pan category and 1st on the @galbaniprofessionaleus team. I made a Roman style pizza with lavender and chamomile mascarpone, coriander/cumin/black pepper braised lemons, smoked Atlantic salmon, anisette ricotta cream, caviar, fried capers and bulls blood micro greens. I think I did well because it was creative and refreshing. We sold it as a special for a short while after.”

Competing at Expo can be stressful, but Vittoria went into it cool, calm, and collected. “I had this idea that this was just a new experience in a new environment. They put me at the prep table where I had to bring all of my ingredients and use an oven I’d never seen before. While those are all things that should have made me more nervous, it actually calmed me. I thought, ‘I have no reputation, nothing to lose and nothing prove. This is my first time so whatever happens happens and I’m just going to have fun.’ I remember my mom saying, ‘I don’t know how you were up there smiling and talking to people all relaxed.’ I responded, ‘we’re here to have fun and share our passion.’ It’s the Pizza Olympics.”

Returning to Expo this year, Vittoria was excited to see the community. “I was happy to see the friends and people I had met since last year. Since my dad has been going to the Pizza Expo for almost 28 years straight, he has a lot of friends. It’s awesome to see the dedication. We’re all just friends – we’re competitive and want to do the best pizza, but behind the scenes in the prep station, we’re all fist bumping and telling each other ‘Your pizza looks great!’ It’s a very warm feeling at the Expo.”

@vittoriatrupiano is a young woman who is part of the new up and coming generation. “I think a lot of attention has been brought to me because of the expected stereotype of a pizzaiolo. Food is a male dominated industry, which is funny to me because women are supposed to be the masters of the kitchen and they are, but are often overlooked. People don’t often see a young woman like me. Between me and few others, it’s only a hand full of us girlies. There were a couple hundred competitors and not many were women. I’ve definitely had some confused looks but always turn out to be positive interactions. People are generally amazed in a way. I’m flattered by it.”

While Vittoria’s always been present at @mangiaoceanside, many are still surprised when they see her at the pizza station. “Most of the time, when people come in, they see my dad at the oven. Therefore when I’m on pizzas, they’re astonished, as a young woman has replaced the expected older gentleman. Over the years Vittoria’s dad has entrusted her and her siblings with more and more responsibility. “He definitely gives us free reign more or less because we’ve grown up in the restaurant. We’re all similar in a business aspect and he has trust in us. From making pizza to making the work schedule. It’s all interchangeable between us.”

Vittoria’s advice for others is an important reminder to have fun. “It’s the creative aspect for me. The creativity that you can allow yourself in the kitchen – especially with pizza since it’s such a prolific and traditional food in the world – makes it so fun. If your creation/pizza doesn’t turn out how expected, it’s ok. Nothing is ever too serious. Keep going and moving forward and try to better yourself. Sometimes I stretch my dough and it comes out shaped like different continents, or some flavors and textures don’t pleasantly interact, but I laugh and learn from it. Just have fun along the way.”

Pizza isn’t @vittoriatrupiano’s only passion and although she’s involved in family business, she’s forged her own path. She’s currently in grad school at UCSD studying International Affairs. “I’m not really sure what the future holds for both of these paths and if they’ll intersect. I might not stay in pizza forever, but the experiences I’ve gained through it, like competing and meeting people, will always be a part of me and if I ever need to whip up a pizza in the kitchen, I’ll be happy to do so. I’m pretty set on my path right now, applying for internships and making travel plans to experience more cultures and food around the world. I’m always ready for new challenges and encounters. No matter where or what I am doing I will find the joy in it and make the most of it!”

Vittoria’s oozes optimism and joy and leaves everyone she interacts with in a brighter mood. She’s a reminder not to take yourself too seriously – that there’s always a silver lining and mistakes are ok. She champions those around her, inspiring them to follow their passions. Next time you’re in San Diego, make sure you stop by @mangiaoceanside to share a slice with Vittoria!