Can you get authentic New York-style pizza in Pakistan? Check out this guy living in his folks’ basement.
Inspired by a visit to New York’s leading pizzerias, Omar Qadir launched Famous O’s in his parents’ house—and now his pizza really is becoming famous.
When Omar Qadir went to New York for medical treatment in 2012, he didn’t know that pizza would change his life forever. Today, five years after Qadir’s first taste of New York pizza, he has amassed a wealth of knowledge and launched his own pizzeria out of his basement in Karachi. His mission: to bring authentic New York-style pizza to Pakistan.
“At the time I went to New York, I wasn’t at a high point in my life,” Qadir recalls. “I quit engineering school after two years, and my parents’ company, where I worked after that, went under. I’d always had pizza on my mind, so, while I was in New York, I Googled ‘pizza tours’ and came across one by Scott Wiener.” Cruising the city’s landmark pizza joints with Scott’s Pizza Tours was a pivotal moment in Qadir’s life. “Scott completely blew me away, seeing how he had built his whole life around pizza,” Qadir says. “It was hugely inspiring.”
Wiener’s passion for pizza ignited a spark in the young Qadir. “I must have gone to 150 pizzerias around New York after that,” he adds. “Totonno’s, Di Fara, John’s on Bleecker Street, Paulie Gee’s—I tried them all. I learned tidbits of wisdom from Scott, and I attended Pizza a Casa Pizza School in New York.”
After his first trip to New York, Qadir returned with a pizza stone and the lessons he had learned abroad. “The local ingredients in Karachi were surprisingly decent,” he says. “I made pizza for my friends and family, and it was pretty good, but I wanted to see just how good I could make it. I bought $250 worth of materials and improvised my own brick oven in the back yard.”
In later visits to the States, he acquired more pizza training, completing a weeklong course at Goodfella’s Pizza School of New York and working under some of the best pizza makers in the city. “Joe Riggio, the owner of NY Pizza Suprema, is one of my major influences and inspirations,” Qadir says. “He taught me how to make pizza, and I strive every day to make the kind of pizza he’s making.”
Back in Pakistan, Qadir was ready to start selling pizza—or thought he was, anyway. “The first day I opened out of my parents’ kitchen was a huge fiasco,” Qadir remembers. “The orders were rolling in, and I couldn’t keep up. I felt like a failure, and at some point I just put my head in my hands and cried. When my sister saw me, she immediately jumped in and helped me get through the rush.”
But Qadir persevered. Two years later, Qadir’s parents helped him invest in professional equipment, which was installed in their basement, and the new and improved Famous O’s Pizza opened for business in 2015. With the extended capacity of the facilities and some hired help, sales have been growing exponentially. “There’s a big market for quality pizza in Pakistan,” Qadir says. “People just need some education on the ingredients. Pakistan’s introduction to pizza was in 1993, and people think pizza is supposed to be thick, oily and mass-produced. Sometimes they tell me my pizza is too dry or too thin because it’s not what they’re used to.”
“We try to explain the characteristics of New York pizza through our marketing—the desired char, crunch, etc.,” he continues. Famous O’s primary outlets for marketing are Facebook and radio, exclusively produced in English, since Pakistan is a former British colony and nearly everyone there speaks the language.
Qadir’s biggest challenge has been getting the quality ingredients he needs to replicate a perfect New York pie. “The climate here in Pakistan is not like what you would find in Italy or California,” he notes. “The local flour is weak, so I create a mix to emulate what you would find in the States. I have a supplier in the north who provides me with buffalo mozzarella, but good tomatoes are hard to find.”
Additionally, Pakistani law forbids the sale of pork and alcohol, so Qadir’s pepperoni and fennel sausage are both made with beef. “Right now, we use Danish cheese, but my first choice would be Polly-O,” he says. “I would prefer to use All Trumps flour and Stanislaus tomatoes, but they’re too difficult to get here.”
In June 2018, Famous O’s will enter its third phase of expansion and move into its first out-of-the-basement location. And, as his business steadily grows, Qadir remains forever grateful to his pizza mentors, Scott Wiener, Joe Riggio, and all of the pizzaioli he trained with in the Big Apple. But he still has one more dream to fulfill: One day, he aspires to open a pizza shop in New York.
Visit the Famous O’s Facebook page at facebook.com/famousospizza/.