Story by Tracy Morin | Photos courtesy Atlanta Pizza Truck

Alessio Lacco, co-owner of the Atlanta Pizza Truck with his wife, Sofia Arango, came by his budding pizza empire honestly—that is, by starting at the bottom. As a student in Naples, Italy, he attended school in the morning and worked at night making pizza, gelato and coffee. It was an art form already in the family, as his uncle ran a restaurant in southern Italy. “But pizza was the one that stayed with me,” Lacco recounts. “I certified myself with the AVPN in 2012, in Naples. The year after, I came to the U.S.”

For those unfamiliar, the AVPN is the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, an organization that offers certification for “pizzerias who meet strict requirements that respect the tradition of the art of Neapolitan pizza making.” In the United States, Lacco worked with wannabe AVPN-certified pizzerias all over the country, including Cane Rosso in Dallas. His Neapolitan pizza consulting work also took him to far-flung locales, like Thailand and Norway, and initiated relationships with major manufacturers, from oven makers to flour producers. But it wasn’t until everything fell apart—thanks to the pandemic—that everything started to come together for Lacco and Arango.

The Pandemic Pivot

Shifting business focus as a result of the pandemic is nothing unusual, but what’s less common is the amount of success this couple has been able to generate since 2020, when they both found themselves basically unemployed. “We started the Atlanta Pizza Truck in March 2020, during and because of the pandemic,” Lacco says. “I was the manager of a pizza restaurant in Atlanta and by now had been doing consulting and working in the industry in the United States for years. My wife was a server at the restaurant, too. But because of the pandemic, we were both without jobs.”

The pair decided to sell Neapolitan pizza in neighborhoods and at festivals, parties, weddings and corporate events. Their mobile operation was built around a distinctive-looking 1982 Piaggio Ape, a three-wheeler that was restored and outfitted with a wood-burning oven, sink and refrigerator. Although Lacco can craft other pizza styles—like Roman, Chicago and New York—it’s the Old-World type that claims his heart. It quickly claimed a lot of other hearts in Atlanta, too.

Related: This food truck operator has made pizza history in Atlanta

As the director and founder of the Atlanta-based outpost of the AVPN school, where aspiring pizzaioli are trained in the art of Neapolitan pizza, Lacco also set out to educate customers on the AVPN, which helped distinguish himself from the competition. “When we first started with Neapolitan pizza, not everyone knew about the certification, or how dedicated we have to be to get it, so I always explain what it is,” he notes. “Right now in the U.S., I’m the only mobile business certified by the AVPN, and it definitely helps us in selling more pizza. We can justify a little higher price.”

Some customers, of course, have bigger budgets to begin with: As Atlanta has become a hot spot for filming, Lacco and Arango have even found themselves firing up the oven for casts, crews and stars on multiple movie and television sets.

“We want to be one of the first, so we’re starting with a couple of [vending] machines this fall….We want to franchise our model by partnering with other pizzerias in the U.S. and in other countries.”
—Alessio Lacco, Atlanta Pizza Truck


The Vending Venture

Just because Lacco works with strict Neapolitan techniques and ingredients that have been perfected over centuries doesn’t mean he’s afraid to try new approaches. “From when I started in the business, I’m always trying to find something different and looking to the future,” he says. And his next business idea feels fittingly visionary: pizza vending machines.

For Lacco, it’s a question of logistics. He has noticed firsthand, in his own mobile operation, how difficult it can be to find employees who want to work the unusual hours and in the grueling conditions that events in the outdoors can create. At the same time, someone who wants to open a traditional brick-and-mortar location is going to be faced with skyrocketing costs. He feels that pizza vending machines are the answer, allowing him to sell his pizzas with much less expense and hassle. In fact, he notes that such machines are already very popular in Europe, and he wants to be part of the movement that makes them just as popular in the U.S.

“We want to be one of the first, so we’re starting with a couple of machines this fall,” Lacco says. “We’re establishing relationships in Atlanta, and we want to franchise our model by partnering with other pizzerias in the United States and in other countries. We can work with them to create their own recipe for the vending machines, or they can use our recipe.” So far, he says he’s had inquiries from operators in Texas, Connecticut and South America.

After all, it’s not just any pizza that can be sold in the vending machines—the recipe must be tweaked accordingly, such as being par-baked to be held in the refrigerated section of the machine until it’s ordered and cooked on the spot. Lacco requested a model that holds 90 pizzas at a 9” size, and it offers the option of freezing the pies to prolong their shelf life.

The machines also provide additional revenue possibilities through LCD screens on the front, enabling pizzerias to sell advertisements that play while customers wait two to three minutes for their pies to bake. The machine will also alert Lacco when pies are running low, and how long each has been in the fridge.

That’s important because, even in a vending machine format, quality and freshness remain paramount to Lacco. “It’s a little challenging to ensure it’s fresh for a few days,” he admits. “We don’t want the customer to feel like it’s coming from a machine. But we’re working closely with a flour company on a recipe. Cheese companies, too—all of these relationships I’ve built through the years are coming together now.”

While the vending machine company is called Quikza, Lacco’s machines will also sport the name of the Atlanta Pizza Truck, to take advantage of (and grow) his positive local reputation. In other locales, he wants pizzerias to brand themselves on his machines, too. Lacco spent his summer finalizing terms with two universities. He’s also in talks with a night school and a hospital, and he hopes to land in airports and stadiums in the future. The first machine is scheduled for an October placement.

“As soon as we place the first couple of machines, that will help to showcase the look and taste and how they work,” Lacco says. “It’s great for pizzerias who already have a brand name in their area but want to be in a high-traffic location—without the expense of opening a full-service restaurant.”   

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s copy editor.