In Search of A Pizza Dream Part 3

Anthony Saporito had a dream to own a pizzeria…In this the final episode, we conclude our interview with him. Listen and learn about a Legend of Pizza in progress!

Albert: What kind of Pizza do you make? What is you favorite to make.

Anthony: At my new place, “Urban Fire” we will being making Authentic Neapolitan style, using “00” flour, salt, water and yeast, That’s it. We just purchased a beautiful Stefano Ferrara, wood burning oven from Naples, and really want to do things the Authentic way. I’m all about tradition, and nostalgia. but I also experimenting with new ideas as well.

Just recently, I had the honor to be invited over my cousin’s house and cook with his 88 year old Mother in Law. Her name is Mrs. Kay Cammareri, and she is the Matriarch of “Cammareri Brothers Bakery” in Brooklyn. Her bakery was a focal point in the hit Movie, ‘Moonstruck’, and even Nicholas Cage’s Character took her last name. She still lives above where the old Bakery was located in the movie. She showed me how to make, “Sfincione”, a Sicilian pie made in a rectangular tray, topped off with tomato paste, onions, anchovies and Bread crumbs. The pie was phenomenal, The onions and the paste make for a very Sweet sauce. The experience I had while making it was even better. As Mrs. Cammareri was instructing me, she told different stories about different people, and places, different occasions to whom she served the dish to over the last 60 years. That makes the dish even more special. So I guess my favorite pizza to make is any one that has a great story behind it.

Paulie Gee and Anthony Saporito

Paulie Gee and Anthony Saporito

Albert: Tell me about your new Pizzeria

Anthony: The name of my place is Called “Urban Fire”. We are located in Madison, New Jersey. Its a great little town filled with friendly people who love good food. We will be serving traditional Neapolitan pizza and Italian Street eats. Our Pizza is going to be done in a Fast Casual/ Create your own, model. You will be able to choose your base of, Margherita, Marinara, Bianco, or Pesto and then go down the line and choose what you want. If you don’t want to create your own, you can choose from our list of Specialty pies. I like giving people the chance to interact in what they want. It creates for a lively, different experience. It’s a great way to also get to know your customers. I’ve already said, If someone comes in and orders the same pie a bunch a times, we will definitely feature it on the menu board. So I plan to have a lot of “Joe” or “Mary” Specials.

I know that few other people are doing “create your own”, out west, but from what I understand, we will be the only ones doing it with a 100% wood fired oven. Even though the assembly line method is a bit unorthodox, I still wanted to keep the artisan tradition of cooking the pie intact, which is why we got a Stefano Ferrara oven. Hopefully I’m not crazy in trying this out, but Think it’ll be fine.

We also will serving a variety of “Street Eats”. In Italy, you can eat some really great food without ever stepping foot in a restaurant. I loved the idea of replicating what street Vendors have been doing for Decades. We will have sandwiches that represent different street foods from different cities, such as a “Porchetta” (Rome), Panelle,(Palermo Sicily) and Lampredotto (Florence–ours will be made of beef and not cow stomach-haha). We will also have sides such as Arancini, (rice balls) Prociutto balls, and Zeppole. And of course, in Naples, Pizza is the original Street Food.

Albert: What would you tell someone who wanted to get into the pizza business?
What advice would you give them?

Anthony: I’d say “Do NOT get discouraged”. When you first start out, its almost like learning a different language, and can be a bit overwhelming. I’ve noticed that 99% of Pizza makers are friendly, and want to help each other out. It also seems like everybody knows each other. It’s really cool. So ask questions, and don’t get discouraged. Of course you will run into the Naysayers and extremists; The guys with egos as big as a house, who think that they are curing diseases, and keep everything a secret. Don’t bother with them. There are plenty of people out there who want to help. And if you can’t find anyone, call me.
Once you get your basics down, start experimenting. Have Pizza Parties where you cook for everyone. It’s fun and gratifying. You’ll see that after a while, you will adopt your own style. Special ways you like doing things which are 100% yours. If you are into it, everything else will fall into place. You’ll start picking up things you weren’t even looking for. Like I said earlier, it’s not rocket science. It’s supposed to be fun and creative. And if anyone tells you, “That’s not the right way to do this” , or, “That is wrong”, ask them to see the book where the rules of Pizza are written.
When I first said I wanted to start my own place, everyone had their own opinion. People will tell you “How will you pay the bills?” , “It’s a lot of work”, “It’s very hard”, or my favorite, “There’s so many places for Pizza”. All of a sudden, everybody is an expert of a sudden. Paulie Gee gave me the best rebuttal for these naysayers. “Tell’ em thanks”, he said, “And then ask them how many Pizza places they own”
If you’re considering getting into the Pizza business, think about why it is that you love Pizza. What about it moves you? I guarantee its because it evokes happy feelings, and in turn you want to share those feelings with others. What is better than that? While its true, I haven’t sold a Pizza on my own just yet but I know that I will do everything in my power to make sure I succeed. I love the quote from Henry Ford that says; “Whether you think you can, or can not do something, you’re right.” This goes for anything in life. Even Pizza

Albert: When do you plan to open? What is your address?

Right now I am playing with all my recipes. I’m having a pretty good time with it too. I invite everybody
I see walking outside to come inside and give me their opinion. My store is all built out. Right now I am just going through the hiring Process. So Hopefully I will be able to get open by mid April.
Our address is:
URBAN FIRE
6 Main Street
Madison, NJ 07940

I am also currently getting a Web Site up, but nothing is up yet. However, I make sure to post on our progress on Social Media.
Facebook:
Urban Fire

Instagram:
Urban_Fire

Twitter:
urbanfirepizza

I would like to thank you, Albert. I’ve enjoyed your articles and videos over the years, but I’ve also enjoyed your insight. So Thank you for helping me tell me story, and please stop by the Next time you are in the NY/NJ area.

All the Best,
Anthony Saporito

 

 

In Search of the Pizza Dream Part 2

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

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

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.

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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In Search of the Pizza Dream Part 1

Here is a letter I recently received:

“Albert, A few years ago I sent you an email, asking you for some advice. I had just gotten laid off from my Job on Wall Street and knew that I didn’t want to go back into the fat race of the financial world. I loved making pizza and knew I wanted to do something with the passion I had for it.

Alberto Grande, Giorgia, and Roberto Caporuscio

Alberto Grande, Giorgia, and Roberto Caporuscio

When we first spoke ,you pretty much told me that I knew what I had to do, deep down. You reminded me that since I lived in New York, there were ample opportunities to sculpt my craft. In other words The knowledge was there for the taking. I just needed to cease it. Not long after we spoke I wrote a letter to two titans of the pizza world. Roberto Caporuscio, of Keste, and Paulie Gee of Paulie Gees.

Paulie G. and Albert G.

Paulie G. and Albert G.

You commented to me you enjoyed reading that letter so much that you put it in one of your newsletters. In the letter I explained my passion, and how serving pizza, and more importantly, bringing others together with good food was in my blood.

The letter went over so well that I was able to learn from both of these masters, first at Roberto’s pizza class and then working at Paulie Gees as a Pizzaiolo for 2 years. The knowledge I gained has been invaluable and I am indebted to both Men for the opportunities they gave me as well as my resume. Now I am starting my own place. It is called ” Urban Fire” located in Madison, NJ.

We will be serving authentic Neapolitan pizza and Italian Street eats, Such as Porchetta sandwiches, zeppoles , Arancini , salads etc. We have a Stefano Ferrara oven from Naples , and our pizza will be severed I a fast/casual style, where the customer gets to go down the line and choose what sauce, cheese and toppings they prefer, to create their own pie. We cook it in our wood burning oven at 800- 1000 degrees and the pie will be ready in 60-90 seconds! I am very excited We should be opened in March, but before then I just waned to reach out to you and say, “thank you” for your help and advice in getting me started.

You helped me get on the path to following my dream and now that dream is finally becoming a reality. Please, if you are ever in the NY/NJ area, please stop by and see me. I’d be honored to host you. Also.

Once again Albert, thank you for everything, for all your help along the way and as always,

Pizza on Earth!

Yours truly,

Anthony Saporito, Owner

Urban Fire,
Madison, NJ

Thanks Anthony. Tell us more about your pizza quest!

I understand you have just undertaken an incredible journey to have a goal
of getting into the pizza business.

Albert: You had a dream, you showed passion and you put effort in and you made
your dream a reality…

 Tell me a bit about you Anthony. What led you to get into the pizza
business?

Anthony: I studied Finance in College. Don’t ask me why. It never really excited me. For the first 10 years after college I worked as a Trader on the Floor of the New York Stock Exchange. At first I loved the fast pace, and interaction with others, but one day we all came in and they told us that the Exchange was abandoning its 200 year old way of doing business, and going computerized. After that, Layoffs started coming every few months. It was a terrible feeling, wondering day to day, when it was going to be your turn. When I first started, my company had 350 employees. When I finally did get laid off, there was 48. I was actually ecstatic when my Boss tapped me on the shoulder to tell me the news -I had already been dreaming of Pizza for the last 2 years prior. Getting laid off was just the kick in the rear I needed to get started.

Albert: Of all the other Jobs, why did you decide to do your own business. Why Pizza?

Anthony:  Entertaining others and cooking for them is in my blood. I grew up in a traditional Italian/American household and my Grandmother’s house on Sunday was like Grand Central station. People came in and out all day. Some stayed for dinner, some ate and ran, some came for coffee. I was always enamored how she was able to feed everyone with such ease and how much Joy she was able to bring to others by doing so. It was contagious. Even when I was in college, and studying Finance, I was still always using the Kitchen in my dorm to cook for everyone. I loved it.

Working in a Job that I had zero drive for really annoyed me. I knew that the next line of business I went into was going to be something I had a Passion for. I didn’t have to think for too long to come up with, what exactly that was, and the answer was Pizza. Pizza is just one of those things that makes everyone happy and excited. You have an age old recipe, and yet you can still be creative. And creating different pizzas with the sole purpose of having others enjoy it, and bringing a smile to their face is what moves me. Much like the feeling I had at my Grandmothers house. I always wanted to do something on my own in the food service industry. This was my chance. I was 30 years old, and decided to do something on my own that I knew I would love. Had I just put my Résumé online and took another desk job, I knew I’d regret it for the rest of my life. I had to take a shot.

Stay tuned for the rest of this incredible interview….

If you are in the pizza business or interested in getting into the Pizza business, I recommend: Growing Pizza: How to Plant the Seeds to a Successful Pizzeria

And also: Profits in the Pie: Effective Marketing Tactics to Seize YOUR Slice of the $38.1 Billion Pizza Pie

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