Maria Fugere and G De Castro get ready to bless the new ovens at Tutta Bella's Culinary Innovation Hub.

Photo courtesy of Jenna Lynn Photography

For Tutta Bella, Nothing Gets Baked Until the Oven Gets Blessed

CEO Joe Fugere's mother joined in the latest ceremony at the Seattle company's new Culinary Innovation Hub.

Whenever Tutta Bella, an AVPN-certified Neapolitan pizza company with seven locations in Washington State, opens a new location, it’s more than just a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Tradition calls for a “blessing of the oven,” too.

It’s a centuries-old Italian tradition, reportedly dating back to a time when a single bakery with a wood-fired oven might serve the needs of an Italian town. To make sure the oven did its job to nourish everyone in the community, a priest would come in to bless it.

For Tutta Bella’s latest oven blessing on August 19, the minister had a pretty big job. The company unveiled its new Culinary Innovation Hub, featuring a state-of-the-art prep kitchen, production facility and office space in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood. The 15,000 square-foot USDA-certified facility will support Tutta Bella’s expanding retail and grocery business while also serving as the company’s new headquarters and Research & Development brain trust.

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And it boasts not one, not two, but three wood-fired ovens straight from Italy.

Founder and CEO Joe Fugere said it was the first time Tutta Bella has blessed three pizza ovens simultaneously. “We have added a new twist since we have grown our business beyond traditional brick-and-mortar locations and our D’Asporto food truck into fresh food production in this beautiful new facility,” Fugere said in a press release. “Therefore, I consider this a ‘joint blessing’ and ‘christening’ of the Culinary Hub along with the ovens, which produce the bread which nourishes our hearts, bodies and souls.”

This photo shows Joe Fugere, with sandy-brown hair and wearing a light blue shirt, with his arm around the shoulder of the Seattle mayor, with a dark mustache and wearing a dark blue suit blazer, a white shirt and a tie.
Joe Fugere and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell (Photo courtesy of Jenna Lynn Photography)

In another tradition specific to Tutta Bella, each oven was given a name in honor of someone in Fugere’s family who has influenced his life and his business. These ovens were named for his great-grandmother, Filomena, who immigrated to Seattle from Calabria with her husband, Pietro, in the late 1800s; Carolina, Fugere’s grandmother; and Maria, Fugere’s mother.

Fugere said his grandmother “was a true matriarch in the family and a constant reminder of the influence of authentic Italian cuisine. Sunday dinners at her house on Beacon Hill were boisterous and loud, the kitchen filled with the smell of simmering tomato sauce and the sounds of laughter and competing conversations.”

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His mother, Maria, meanwhile, still lives in Fugere’s childhood home on Beacon Hill and “continues to be an inspiration and mentor to me and has taught me how to be a humble and thankful person,” he said.

In fact, Maria assisted in the blessing ceremony, which was performed by G De Castro, a longtime friend of Fugere’s. De Castro served as Seattle University’s assistant director of campus ministry for several years and is currently the deputy director of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service in Seattle.

Also attending the event were many Seattle notables, including Mayor Bruce Harrell, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle City Council Member Sara Nelson, and Seattle City Council Candidate Rob Saka, along with vendors, partners, Culinary HUB employees and friends and family.

According to the press release, the new Tutta Bella facility will bring more than 100 jobs to the region.

“Together with Seattle-based real estate developer Nitze-Stagen, we’ve made it a long-standing mission to double down on our efforts to reverse the trend of job and business migration out of the city, county and state,” Fugere said. “Our investments in our joint venture stand as a clear symbol of the new face of food production and manufacturing in SODO, an area that has been designated as one of Washington’s ten opportunity zones.”