By Alexandra Mortati, Women In Pizza

Amanda Jones, co-owner of Pizzeria Florian in East Aurora, New York, never thought she’d end up working in the pizza industry. In fact, she says, “I never thought I was going to end up working in restaurants. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I went to school for international business!” It was while she was getting her degree that Amanda found herself making pizza. “I needed a job, so I got one making pizza and ice cream cakes. I really enjoyed it, which should have been my first clue!”

Upon graduation, Amanda worked in a pastry shop. When she met Jay Langfelder, now her husband, he told her he wanted to start a food truck. “I jumped on the bandwagon and helped him start it. I started as a cashier and took orders. When other employees wouldn’t show, it was all hands on deck, so I’d jump in and start helping make pizza.”

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Amanda’s background in pastry gave her a great foundation for pizza. “I knew how to work with dough and had that baker’s sense of timing,” she recalls. “I have a timer in my head that goes, ‘Oh, I have to turn it. Oh, I have to take it out.’ Anything I missed from pastry I found in pizza. I really always enjoyed pastry because of the decorating aspect and creativity, but I saw the value in the fast-paced nature of pizza, and I can be creative in toppings. The excitement I got from decorating and making things beautiful was replaced by the fast pace of Neapolitan pizza. I would spend hours on one wedding cake and then turn around and see Jay turning pizza nonstop at night. I realized, ‘I’m in the wrong business.’”

When Amanda made the decision to work at Jay’s operation fulltime, she was operating her own catering business, where she made custom cakes and charcuterie boards. “I saw the team aspect at Jay’s, and I really enjoyed working with everyone. I thought, ‘Why am I killing myself for such a small margin in my own business?’ I was just as good at pizza, and it was fun, fast-paced, and I had team support. I had reached a level of maturity where I realized there’s a better, more enjoyable way to make a living. My interest naturally shifted more into making pizza and restaurant management to foster a better quality of life for myself.”

Amanda finds restaurant management fulfilling, but, initially, it wasn’t where she wanted to be. “I was slowly nudged into it over time. A lot of times, at restaurants, either women apply to front-of-house positions or they are put in those positions. I’d see other girls come work for us and be put in front-of-house positions, and I’d notice they were interested in pizza. I’d encourage them to make pizza when it was slow, then they’d start making pizza to bring home, then they started asking to do it more. I became passionate about encouraging them. Because it is usually all guys making pizzas, it’s less comfortable for women to push their way back and get hands on, too.”

Amanda Jones smiles as she drizzles olive oil over a Margherita pizza.

Courtesy of Amanda Jones

Amanda continued following a management path and became the general manager for Big Bon Bodega after relocating to Savannah, Georgia. A lot of her employees were college students who went to the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). “There were ample employees, so we didn’t have a shortage, but we faced a lot of callouts. A lot of people didn’t take it as seriously as I was raised to. It’s a different beast employing college students who all go to the same school and have the same breaks. I tried to make it as beginner-friendly as possible. I’m super big on teaching because this was the first restaurant job for them, and I wanted them to feel well-trained and supported. I made checklists and tutorials and gave them points of contact through team leads and management, but you can’t totally idiot-proof it. There are ovens and equipment they’ve never seen before and a lot of different personalities. It can be overwhelming.”

Understanding the dough and getting used to the equipment and oven takes time. “Figuring out fermentation is challenging for almost everyone,” she says. “There are so many variables, and you have to go by feel and experience. When it comes to teaching people to stretch dough, they watch you and try to mimic your movements but then get frustrated when it doesn’t work. You really have to practice and feel the dough stretching in your hands, and that’s when it clicks. You can’t learn it just by watching.”

At Big Bon, Amanda was also able to fine-tune her own pizza making skills. “Baking came super easily to me, but stretching the dough was hard. When I was working with Jay, we would fight. If I wanted to try stretching a different way, he’d yell at me, and then I’d yell back at him, so for a long time, I didn’t stretch at all. At Big Bon, I would work with Kay, the owner. Working with someone else gave me the freedom to figure it out on my own. I learn by doing. I don’t know what triggers it, but I find myself switching between different techniques, even on the same pizza.”

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Amanda loves Neapolitan pizza because it’s fast. “It’s exciting! Let’s turn it up a notch and go faster. I love the feeling of getting through service quickly.” She also prefers mobile catering. “I like mobile catering more than being in a shop because I like being outside. I don’t mind the curve balls thrown at you!”

Amanda and Jay recently moved back to New York and launched Pizzeria Florian, which offers Neapolitan pizza with a focus on local seasonal produce. It started out as a boutique catering operation, but in February 2024, they expanded into a brick-and-mortar location. Meanwhile, she still enjoys the role of mentor.

“I find it really fun and fulfilling to talk to younger employees and see what they are interested in and help them find a sustainable path in restaurants. I don’t want to lose being hands on making food either—it’s what I find most relaxing and where my joy lies. I want to find the balance between those two things, but it’s hard. In management roles, you get caught up with chasing numbers and managing food costs, so even though you want to be making food and teaching, you just don’t have the time. Plus, when you’re faced with so many employee call-ins, you’re scrambling to make it through every shift, and that doesn’t leave you much room to be in the kitchen to come up with new menu ideas.”

She also finds fulfillment through her ability to support her local community. “I’m super passionate about supporting local farmers and buying directly from them. There are a lot of great farms in New York. I love learning about what they’re doing and visiting their farms. I’m developing relationships with other locals, and I feel like I’m supporting their business, and when you build these relationships, they start to bring you things they think you might like. With Neapolitan pizza, it’s easy to use seasonal ingredients and I’m looking for more of that artisan, fresh product. When people know you and your pizza, they are more willing to try new things. I use local produce to turn people onto something they never would have tried before!”

While Amanda never thought she’d end up in restaurants, she’s found what she loves. “I got into making food because you can be so creative,” she says. “It’s a form of art that incorporates all of your senses. Of course, you can look at it and make it beautiful, but there’s also the smell and the taste. You can express creativity through food, and you can make a really good living at the same time. And Neapolitan pizza is great because it’s accessible for everyone—approachable fine dining! It’s easy for a family to get high-quality ingredients in a filling meal that is both beautiful and affordable.”

For others out there who are not sure what they want to do or are afraid, Amanda is proof that seizing opportunities when they present themselves and being persistent about what you want pays off. “When I got the opportunity to work with Kay, I never thought I would be ready to be GM of a restaurant, but she saw potential in me and gave me the opportunity. Take the opportunities in front of you and push your way into where you want to be because you know what you want to do best.”

“There’s a place for everyone in restaurants,” she adds, but sometimes you have to be assertive. “Force your way in. It’s easy to be brushed off as a woman in restaurants. So many guys are interested in working in pizza. Jay would have a lot of guys that wanted to learn how to make pizza from him. You’ll hear, ‘You’re great at making pizza, but I have these guys here to learn pizza from me, and you’re so good with customers. They can’t do front-of-house, but you can. With Kay, the difference was that anything was accessible. She had gone through it as well, so she said, ‘You can do whatever you want here. I do it, so of course you can do it.’ A female mentor is really helpful and a different way of relating to someone and working with someone. I’m hopeful that there will be more women in management and back-of-house to mentor younger women. It’s just different.”

Alexandra Mortati is the marketing director for Orlando Foods and founder of Women In Pizza, a not-for-profit organization that empowers women in the pizza industry to share their stories, display their talents, inspire innovations, and connect with one another and the world. This article originally appeared on the Instagram account for Women In Pizza. Click here to learn more about the organization.


Marketing, Pizzerias