This is Anthony Saporito, pizza story of how he went from dreaming about opening his own pizzeria to actually doing it. Anthony has opened his new pizza restaurant called, Urban Fire located in Madison, New Jersey. We will be serving authentic Neapolitan pizza and Italian Street eats, Such as Porchetta sandwiches, zeppoles, Arancini, salads and more.
Albert: What kind of research did you do? Where did you go for your information? Did you get any help?
Anthony: As I was leaving the Stock Exchange the day I got laid off, I had a smile on, ear to ear. Instead of, “Oh God what do I do now!” My only thought was what Wood fired oven I was going to buy. I took a chunk of my Severance package my company gave me, and bought a Forno Bravo, Primavera oven and Put it in My Parents Back Yard. That summer, all I did was research recipes, and techniques, and make Pizza. My parents had people over all the time, and I tried to make pizza for each and every one of them. At first, Like Many Others, I searched the internet, and found sites like Pizzamaking.com very informative. I got very discouraged at first, because a lot of what I read was explained scientifically. I felt like I was back in grade school (where science was my mortal enemy). I’d read as some of these guys would break down the pizza process molecule by molecule.
Forno Bravo Primavera
Thankfully, soon after, my wife (at that time, my girlfriend) bought me “American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza” by Peter Reinhart. The book really opened my eyes up to a whole new world of how people “thought” about Pizza. Not to mention, it explained the science of the process in a way even I could understand. Almost like a “Pizza for dummies”.
Ha. I was always more into the emotional gratification of Pizza, rather then the science of it Anyway. The book made me realize that Pizza isn’t just a food that tastes good, it’s a special something that invokes a whole slew of emotions for everyone, young and old, rich or poor, man or woman. And its a different feeling for everyone. So I became obsessed with it. From there I adopted the Philosophy that Pizza was not so much about “How” it is made, but the “Who” was making it. I came to really admire the people whose passion came through the pages as I read them, or whose facial expressions practically screamed to me how much they loved to make pizza when I met them. The simple fact is this; If you eat a pizza that is really delicious–chances are there is an extremely passionate person behind it. But like with anything else, you can read or research all you want about a subject, but you can’t get good at it until you actually physically do it. I had to get my hands dirty. Or better yet, full of flour.
Albert: Why Did you go to Pizza school?
Anthony: The same summer I read American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza, my parents took my sister and me to Italy. After reading how much Mr. Reinhart loved the Pizza at Da Michele, in Naples, I insisted we try it out. so we did. The line wasn’t bad at all, surprisingly and I must admit, I was a little apprehensive at the fact that they only had two kinds of pies (marinara and Margherita). That quickly changed. The four of us all took our first bite, and then there was complete silence. We all just looked at each other. Nobody said a word, but the expression of our faces let each of us know that we all felt that this pizza was unlike anything we ever ate. I will fully admit that when you are from New York, you have an arrogance about you when it comes to Pizza. Don Antonio Starita and Albert Grande I “Thought” I knew great Pizza. Humbly, I Knew I was wrong the second I ate that first piece of Da’Michele. It tasted like something your Grandmother made for you. For me that was my “ah Hah” moment. After that, I became obsessed with Authentic Neapolitan Pizza. I’m very fortunate that a couple Neapolitan places were starting to make their mark in the New York area. So, I wrote e-mails to all the owners, telling them how passionate I was about learning how to make Neapolitan pizza, and that I would love to come and apprentice for them. That was when Roberto Caporuscio wrote me back, telling me about the Pizza Class he gives.
Don Antonio Starita and Albert Grande
I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that, to learn from such a master of his craft. The first thing he instructed us to do was “Open your minds”. In other words, to not just think of pizza as how you knew it growing up, but instead to keep an open mind for the simplicity, yet creativity of Neapolitan Pizza.
I learned a great deal, and am very Thankful to Roberto for the opportunity he gave me. to say the least, the course certainly opened my mind. I wanted to go work for him at Keste, but he was too busy starting up “Don Antonio” and didn’t have the time to train a new person at that point. So I decided to keep looking for a place I could not just work at, but where I would also be able to learn more, and sharpen my skills.
Paulie G. and Albert G.
Albert: I understand you apprenticed with Paulie Gee. How did you approach him? Was he skeptical or very open? Did you tell him for the start about your goal?
Anthony: One day I drove around Brooklyn the area to see if they would hire me. A few places turned me down, or said, “Come back another day”. Looking back on it, I very grateful they did. My last stop of the day brought me to Paulie Gees in Greenpoint. I hadn’t eaten there yet, nor had I met Paulie, but I really enjoyed watching some of the interviews he gave. We sat down at one of his tables in the front, and I think we were two sentences into the conversation when we realized we liked each other. We are both Brooklyn guys, and the conversation flowed as if we were both sitting on somebody’s front stoop in the old neighborhood. I told him my intentions of one day opening up my own place right off the bat. He then shared with me his experiences in getting his own place started and how helpful other Pizza makers like Mark Iacono of “Lucali”, and Chris Bianco of “Pizzeria Bianco” in Phoenix, were to him. “When Chris Bianco helped me out” , he explained, “The only thing he asked of me in return was that someday I pay it forward.” So in hiring me, he wasn’t just getting another worker, he was helping someone out in attaining their dream. He was paying it forward. I can’t tell you how appreciative I am for that. Still to this Day.
At first I worked in the Kitchen doing Prep work, but eventually I got a shift or two a week doing Pizza at night. The first night I worked the Pizza station, Paulie came up to me and reminded me, “You’re officially serving Pizza to the Public”. I really have to say it was an incredible feeling, not to mention, Paulie was just as excited saying it. He knew what I was feeling, and I thought it was a great gesture to bring it to light. While working Pizza, my main goal was to learn how to work the oven. Paulie has a beautiful Stefano Ferrara and I was always in awe of the pizzaioli who could cook 4 or 5 pies at one time, on a busy night. So I was determined to be like them. It wasn’t easy, and I hit a few bumps a long the way and burnt many ‘a pie. I quickly realized that it wasn’t just about how fast you cooked the pies, but more about how well, you cooked them. Making the last pie in the oven look as good as the first. There is no room for error, and you have to concentrate. I would usually come in an hour or two before my shift and practice with old dough to just get my technique down. Once I started getting the hang of it, I was relentless. I would beg the person working the oven that night to just let me cook for “Ten minutes”. After a few months, I got pretty good at it, and it became second nature. I worked at Paulie Gee’s for almost 2 years. My experience was great, and I learned a lot of little ins and outs that I would not have known, had I just picked up and went into the business blind. I am very grateful to Paulie for the opportunity he gave me and we still remain close friends till this day. He refers to himself as my, “Pizza Daddy”. Its an affectionate term, almost like “Godfather”, explaining that he was my Mentor in the Pizza business. haha. I’m very lucky to have him as my “Pizza Daddy” and hopefully, some day I can Pay it forward also, and become a “Pizza Daddy” myself to somebody.
Albert: What are your earliest Memories of Pizza?
Anthony: My earliest Memory of Pizza was the homemade kind my Grandmother made. She had this old, cast Iron frying pan, which was, as she put it, “As old as the hills”. And in a Time before Williams and Sonoma, or Pizza stones, she’d gently coat the bottom of the frying pan with Olive oil and then put the dough in it, cupping the side rims of the pan, and then cook it in the oven. She only used the “plum” of the tomato, no sauce, which she crushed by hand. Sometimes she put cheese, sometimes she didn’t, but it didn’t matter. It was Heaven on Earth. When the pie came out of the oven, she’d take it out and cut it with a scissor. Man was it good. During Lent, being that we ever ate meat on Fridays, she’d take that same pan and fill it up about a quarter of the way with oil, and fry the dough first, then top it off with tomatoes and cheese in the oven, almost like the famous, “Montanara”. Or make a bite size pocket with ricotta cheese in it, like a mini Calzone, or Pizza Fritta. Other’s may refer to it as , “Peasant Food”. But Man, did we eat like kings when she cooked. Other than that, growing up in Brooklyn, Pizza was everywhere.
The pizza place we went to was usually accompanied by an event. For instance, in the summer, we went to the beach at Coney Island almost every weekend, and always stopped off at “Totonnos” to bring a pie or two home. I loved the old man, Jerry who was the son original founder. He was not very pleasant, and wasn’t a fan of kids, and I was as he’d call me, a “Rascal”. At 8 years old, every chance I got, I’d try to do something to make him yell at me, which I got a kick t of. However, as soon as he alluded to chance of , “No Pizza” I quickly shut my mouth and stood in the back, as quiet as a mouse. His pizza was that delicious.
Every Halloween, we always went to go see the parade in Greenwich Village, so before that, we stopped off and had a Pie at “John’s” on Bleeker street. We went about once a month to Staten Island, to visit my Parents close friends, and had the Friday night tradition of going to “Deninos” for Pizza, and then across the street for Italian ices at Ralphs. When I became a teenager, the local hangout became L&B Spumoni Gardens. It was the perfect spot to meet up with your friends, talk to girls, and oh yea, eat pizza. I never really thought of it much until now, but , WOW I’ve eaten a lot of Pizza in my life. Geez. But, the fact that I still love it after all these years, and that I am always looking for new places to try, or new recipes to create, just reminds me why I love it so much. It’s the same for many people. Pizza is just one of those foods you can’t get tired of, and even if you do get tired of it, you can’t help but crave it after some time off.
Stay tuned for Part 3… In the meantime, please check out:
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