Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria
There’s the typical North American idea of pizza –a heavy, dense crust loaded with cheese, grease and meaty toppings–and then there’s Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria (Famoso). The British Columbia-based chain is serving up authentic, lighter-style Neapolitan pizza while offering a unique premium casual dining experience that’s unlike anything in Western Canada.
Bringing Neapolitan Home
It all started when Justin Lussier and his wife decided to take the trip of a lifetime, venturing throughout Europe from Spain to France to Italy. “In 2005, we left for Europe, it was just going to be a fun trip with no business goals in mind,” recalls Justin, CEO and co-founder of Famoso. “We were on a budget, so while in Naples, Italy, we ordered pizza margherita just about every night for a few weeks. Being a typical North American kid, I thought of cheese pizza as pretty boring, but the taste and texture was completely unlike anything I’d had before.”
Justin couldn’t help but fall in love with light, crispy crust, fresh vine-ripened tomatoes and smooth mozzarella –all which cook in a matter of 90 seconds. “It was not the greasy, sub-par pizza I was used to,” he continues. “Before coming to Naples I had no idea that each region in Italy had its own style of pizza –I was uneducated, but I had to learn more.”
Wasting no time to contact his friends, and now business partners, Jason Allard and Christian Bullock, Justin made a phone call that would set his idea into motion. “I called Jason and Christian from a pay phone because I was so excited and had to share my thoughts,” he says. “At the time, I didn’t realize I was actually dining at one of the oldest and best pizzerias in Naples.”
Once Justin returned to Canada, the three began meeting once a week to formulate a business plan. “We came across the Asscocizione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN), which is a Naples-based organization formed to lay out the standards and rules that go around an authentic Neapolitan pizza,” he adds.
After a little more research, Justin noticed there was one of the few operational VPN-certified pizzerias in Los Angeles. “I went to L.A. to train and learn all that I could –I even stayed in a hostel because I was willing to do whatever it took to make this vision work,” he shares. “There are many intricacies in producing a Neapolitan pie. You need certain flour for the dough, specific tomatoes, cheese, a special oven and the precise temperature.”
Once Justin had acquired the knowledge and skill to produce Naples- style pizza, he still needed the ingredients, which were half a world away. “We learned quickly there were certain hoops we had to jump through because we couldn’t access the quality, fresh ingredients we needed in Canada or the U.S.,” he explains. “We started importing flour and pallets of tomatoes –even a real pizza oven from Italy.”
The Makings of a True Pizzeria
With the pie science down, Justin and his partners launched the first Famoso in May 2007 in downtown Edmonton, Alberta. “We opened a small space with about 45 seats and a patio and began to wonder if Edmonton, a meat and potatoes kind of town, would respond well to this new kind of pizza,” reveals Justin. “We had a few learning curves and bumps along the way to overcome, but sales just kept going up and up and we knew we really had something good going.”
Aside from the exceptionally different, lighter style pizza, Justin focused on creating the casual environment of a true pizzeria –not a restaurant. “I wanted something similar to how it felt while relaxing in Naples,” he shares. “I noticed there was a big void in the market. Whatever happened to the good ol’ pizzeria? I wanted a blue and white collar hangout with an exceptional atmosphere that could match the food.”
Justin and his partners did so by adding old-world brick and wood to bring an earthy feel to the space, with a splash of bright colors and laid back lighting. “The goal was to create a comfortable space where you can stop in for a quick lunch or hangout for a beer, cappuccino or dessert,” he details. “We’ve also added to the experience through what we like to call premium fast-casual service.”
Famoso has combined traditional counter ordering with full table service. “You order at the counter, but you can leave your tab open,” explains Justin. “At lunchtime, 90 percent of customers pay, because they’re looking for a quick bite, but we also have people come in for a pizza and a bottle of wine on a relaxing night out. We have a full staff of barista servers who wait on tables past the counter ordering. It’s a very interesting middle ground that no one has really seen before.”
Famoso now has 18 corporate pizzerias and franchises throughout Western Canada and Justin expects that number to grow to 24 by the end of 2013. “Before growing too much we’ve just focused on getting well established stores set up, because in the restaurant business, there’s no time to get better later,” adds Justin. “We’ve tripled the size of our head office team, adding some really great people from marketing to project management.”
Justin hopes to increase Famoso’s presence throughout British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. “If Ontario picks up, we could possibly open 10 more locations this year, maybe even 15 to 20 stores next year,” he says.
The buzz about real, classic Neapolitan pizza has captured consumers with love-at-first-bite. Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria continues to grow, bringing the best of Italy to western Canada with friendly service and an authentic experience.