By Charlie Pogacar

Peyton Smith, owner of Mission Pizza Napoletana in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was an elite soccer player growing up, eventually earning a scholarship to Wake Forest University. More recently, Smith has become one of the best pizza makers in the country. Are his soccer and pizza-making skills related? He thinks so.

“Maybe it’s in the pizza dough, or understanding how the fire works,” Smith said on the most recent episode of Peel: A PMQ Pizza Podcast. “I would say my soccer life taught me to pay attention to all of these variables. I mean, you’re playing soccer and you have to know what’s happening right now and what’s likely to happen in the next 6-to-12 seconds…so, being able to juggle a bunch of variables in real time has been a thing in my life for a long time, and that probably translates very well into my pizza-making life.”

On the podcast, Smith discusses how he grew from a mobile-pizza business into a restaurant that’s now recognized as one of the best in the country: 50 Top Pizza ranked Mission Pizza Napoletana #22 in the U.S. in its latest rankings. Food & Wine ranked Mission Pizza Napoletana the best pizza in North Carolina, and Smith was a James Beard Semifinalist in 2022.

Related: Stop Working So Hard, Says Award-Winning Pizzaiolo

And now Mission Pizza is set to expand—it will soon open a location inside of Terra Nova Brewery’s new beer garden in the foodie-friendly South Slope neighborhood of Asheville, North Carolina. It’ll be a new challenge for Smith, but it’s one he’s excited about. While Asheville is an even smaller city than Winston-Salem, Smith shared that the the pool of restaurant talent is ridiculously deep by comparison.

“I have two ads on Indeed right now,” Smith said on the podcast. “One is for a person on my line in Winston-Salem. The other ad I had was for basically a head chef to sort of run our daily operations in Asheville. The delta in the average candidate between those two locations was beyond remarkable.”

Notably, talent in Asheville seems to view restaurant work as a potential career, while in Winston-Salem it’s viewed as more of a stepping stone to the next thing. With those things in mind, then, it’s remarkable that Smith has built such a strong reputation for Mission Pizza Napoletana in his hometown. That’s due in part to the very solid team he’s built in his 10 years in business.

“Between the three key components—myself, Phil and Evan—out of 30 possible aggregate years, I think we’ve worked 27 years together,” Smith said. “That’s pretty remarkable.”

Smith will be a featured speaker at September’s PMQ Pizza Power Forum.

Marketing, Pizzerias