If you travel in the world of pizza on Instagram, at some point you’ve likely stumbled across Juan Gabriel Perez (@juangpizza). A pizza chef, Perez takes his 436,000 followers behind the scenes at Posto, an acclaimed pizzeria outside of Boston, with original content targeted at pizza makers, pizza lovers and the pizza curious alike. Perez’s Instagram account is perhaps as popular as it is because his content has a little something for everyone. 

How Perez ascended to the level of pizza influencer, however, is a story where determination meets happenstance. When Perez was still a teenager, he emigrated from his native country of Colombia to Boston, where one of his brothers had already been living. Within 24 hours of arriving in the U.S., Perez was already working at a grocery store. 

Just a few weeks into that gig, in a freak coincidence, Perez was taking out the trash when he ran into a Colombian friend from high school. The friend gave him a lead on a restaurant job, which paid a whole dollar more an hour than his grocery store job—Perez quickly made it work. 

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Eventually, Perez’s restaurant experience earned him a job at a California Pizza Kitchen location. He started in the dish pit, but his curiosity and natural skill for cooking made him a valuable asset at CPK. Soon, he was making pizzas and found that he loved everything about it. 

“I was so excited,” Perez said on the latest episode of Peel: A PMQ Pizza Podcast. “I called my mom. I called everybody [to tell them I was making pizza]. I was like, oh my God. I don’t know. I think… at work? I think I’ve made it.” 

Perez laughs looking back on it, but it was no small feat. He was in his early 20’s, making solid money and enjoying the work he was doing. He was making enough money that he was able to, for the first time since arriving in the U.S., drop down to just one job. At least, that was until a friend of his told him to come check out Posto, a pizzeria that was relatively new at the time, that was cooking a strange Italian import called Neapolitan pizza. 

Perez came along and chatted with the chef-owner of Posto, who was interested in Perez’s skillset as somebody working at another pizza restaurant. “He was like, ‘oh, you work over there?’” Perez said. “‘You probably already know a lot, then?’”

Except when Perez went upstairs to check out Posto, he was only struck by how dissimilar the pizza-making process was to the conveyor-belt style pizza he was making at CPK. “When I went upstairs and saw everything, I was like, oh, no, this is nothing like that,” Perez said. “I know gas, right? But this was wood. The oven was like 900 degrees—so hot. And then the dough was so fresh and so different.” 

Perez was intimidated by the whole thing, but intrigued enough to take the job. He went back to working two jobs for a long time, getting his pizza-making reps up in the process. It was also around this time that Perez first started his Instagram account. It was before many people were showcasing their pizza-making skills on Instagram—before you could even post a video to the social media website, let alone a reel. 

To hear more about Perez’s pizza journey and how he grew his social media presence, check out the latest episode of Peel. 

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