Who is this world-renowned pizzaiolo? None other than Tony Gemignani. What exactly is a pizzaiolo? That would be a person who makes pizzas in an official pizzeria.
Recently, L’Italo-Americano interviewed Bay Area native, Tony Gemignani and he shared the story of his impressive career, a career that began quietly in a typical California town called Fremont.
Gemignani was born and raised on this family’s apricot and cherry farm. Perhaps it was the early years working in his brother, Frank Jr.’s, Castro Valley restaurant, Pyzano’s, that laid the foundation for this third generation Italian-American. It was in Pyzano’s that Gemignani began his career entertaining customers with his admirable pizza wielding expertise.
He is now the chef and owner of thirteen restaurants in Northern California and Las Vegas and an 11-time world pizza champion. He is also proprietor of the International School of Pizza in San Francisco, where he certifies chefs from around the world, and is an official U.S. Ambassador of Neapolitan Pizza by the city of Naples, a prestigious title only given to three people in the entire world.
When asked how his remarkable pizza career began, he responded, “I’ve been in the pizza industry for 25 years. Right after high school I started by working at my brother’s place, Pyzano’s Pizzeria, in Castro Valley. I started pizza throwing there which is how I got started on the acrobatics circuit. The travelling I did for pizza throwing allowed me to immerse myself in the regional pizza styles from across the United States and in Italy – making me a better pizzaiolo and an expert in different styles.”
We were interested to hear if Gemignani’s Italian heritage contributed to his entrepreneurial spirit. “Absolutely. My grandfather, Frank Gemignani, was Italian. He worked long, hard days.
I definitely received my work ethic from him, which has been essential to my success.”
As to what he attributes his rapid and seemingly boundless success, Gemignani says, “I found a lot of success in recent years, it’s true, but I’ve been building a reputation for more than two decades. I attribute the success I’ve had and any future success to my passion and love for what I do. I’m driven to do better every day because I want to see my restaurants succeed. I want to continue to share my love for making quality food that people enjoy.”
Have you ever considered yourself as a modern-day Gennaro Lombardi? (Gennaro Lombardi was an Italian immigrant who moved to the United States in 1897 known for opening the first pizzeria in the United States.) “When I opened the first location in North Beach in 2009 my goal was to make Tony’s a pizza an institution like Lombardi’s is on the East Coast.”
Earlier this year, the pizza maestro was ready to lead The World Pizza Champions™, America’s #1 Pizza Team™, to the World Pizza Championship in Parma, Italy on April 11-13, 2016. Taking place every year, the World Pizza Championships determines the world’s best pizza makers with over 20 countries competing and 6,500 independent chain and franchise owners in attendance.
“We were well prepared for this year’s competition and were excited to be bringing some new team members with us,” stated Gemignani. “They were selected from the tens of thousands of pizza operators in the industry and each one of them brings their own unique set of skills to the team’s winning dynamic. We all live and breathe the team’s motto: ‘Respect the Craft.’”
And the winner was? As it turns out, Gemignani won first place in the Pizza In Pala division and claimed his twelfth world champion title at the 25th annual World Piazza Championships in Parma Italy and claimed his twelfth world pizza championship, Campionato Mondiale Della Pizza in Parma Italy.
“I’m beyond excited to take this title home for the U.S. and my team, The World Pizza Champions™,” explained Gemignani. “It was such a surreal experience to hear my name announced and feel the crowd erupt – it was one of the best moments of my life.”
Gemignani plans on expanding nationally and internationally. “You’re going to see growth in Nevada soon and I can see myself growing eastward (Growing east doesn’t mean east coast, just east of California and Nevada.) in the next couple of years. I’m also entertaining the idea of expanding internationally and have been approached to do so. For that to happen, though, I would need the right business partner.”
A new slice house location is expected to open in Walnut Creek, California, within the next two months and one recently opened in the Market at the lobby level of Twitter headquarters. Gemignani has also just launched a flour called Tony’s California 00 Artisan for the professional and home chef.
He has appeared on a number of shows including “Good Morning America”, “The Today Show”, and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”. He is the author of PIZZA, Tony and the Pizza Champions, and most recently, The Pizza Bible, the definitive book on pizza.