• Joe Farruggio, owner of the legendary Il Canale in Washington, D.C., has published a memoir, “My Name Is Joe, and I Am a Pizza Man.”
  • The native Sicilian rose from anonymity to become a renowned chef to many of the world’s most powerful people.

Joe Farruggio was just five days off a ship from Sicily when he landed his first pizzeria job in New York in 1970. Now the pizzaiolo is a renowned chef to the most powerful people in the world. And he’s telling his story in a new memoir, “My Name Is Joe, and I Am a Pizza Man: An American Story,” released by Fourth Lloyd Productions in October.

According to the publisher, the book, co-written with Thierry Sagnier, is “the quintessential immigrant story, an entrepreneur’s tale of rags to riches, demonstrating that, with courage, intelligence and instinct, no dream is too extreme.” The memoir follows Farruggio’s footsteps from his childhood in Sicily to the kitchen of his world-renowned Il Canale restaurant in Washington, D.C.

The memoir is available on Amazon for $29. Click here to learn more and order it.

After working and learning his craft in various New York City pizzerias, Farruggio moved to Virginia in 1977. He quickly noticed that Italian culture and authentic Italian cuisine were scarce in the nation’s capital. He found work at a pizza shop in Manassas, Virginia, and before long his pies were the talk of the beltway. He eventually branched out on his own, opening Joe’s Place: Pizzas and Subs, later renamed Joe’s Place: Pizza and Pasta, in Woodbridge, Virginia, in 1978 and expanding it to five locations.

In 2008, Farruggio fell in love with Neapolitan pizza after a friend talked him into spending a summer in Napoli, Italy. “You know, I really didn’t know anything about Neapolitan pizza at that time,” Fuggarrio explained in his bio on Il Canale’s website. “I knew pizza, New York style, well. But authentic and Neapolitan pizza, if you really pay attention to the flavors, is like switching from darkness to light. Pizza Napoletana is soft, tender and juicy. You can either eat it with fork and knife or by folding it with your hands. When you eat it, you can taste the juicy sauce and the buffalo mozzarella [and] San Marzano tomatoes.”

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The Tartufata pizza from Il Canale (Facebook)

He opened his Neapolitan pizzeria, Il Canale (named after the canal in Georgetown), in 2010. “I put everything I had on the line,” he said, “but I knew I had 40 years of experience at that moment to succeed.”

And succeed he did. Il Canale has become a celebrity hotspot, frequented by journalists, actors and heads of state. Everyone from Hillary Clinton and Brigitte Macron to Nancy Pelosi and Ivanka Trump have feasted on Farruggio’s Neapolitan pies and other dishes. The menu is extensive, offering 17 pizzas ranging from the Capricciosa and the Siciliana to the Mortadella e Pistacchio and the Tartufata, plus pasta dishes and entrees like Lamb Chops alla Griglia, Salmone alla Siciliana and Tagliata di Manzo.

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Il Canale is the only restaurant in Washington, D.C. to receive the top culinary honor from the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce and the National Institute of Tourism. It was named “One of the 70 Best Italian Restaurants and Pizzerias in the World” and one of Yelp’s “Top 100 Places to Eat” in 2022. It also holds the coveted Gambero Rosso title for being a “Top Italian Restaurant” in D.C., among many other distinguished honors.

Joe and Teresa Farruggio (Facebook)

Farruggio enjoys sharing his life and business lessons with students and entrepreneurs of all ages. For this reason, he received the prestigious Premio Eccellenza Italiana Award for Lifetime Achievement on October 14. In a ceremony conducted simultaneously between the Casa Italiana in Washington, D.C. and The Vatican in Rome, Italy, Farruggio accepted the honor and vowed to continue giving back to both the Italian and the American cultures that have enabled him to realize his full potential.

“I Am Joe, and I Am a Pizza Man” is described as “equally inspirational and thought-provoking.” Farruggio hopes his life story will motivate readers to follow their passions while increasing their profits.

Farruggio certainly did exactly that. In his website bio, he recalled the challenges he faced on Il Canale’s opening night back in January 2010. His managers and chef had been fully trained. Everything was in place. “We had wine, the tasting menu, and we were ready to open for family and friends,” he remembered. “We invited 400 people. We filled up the restaurant with reservations, and then, the night before, we had a snowstorm.”

The storm dumped about three feet of snow on the city. “So, the people I hired and trained could not come to work, so we could not open,” he said. “What did we do? We started again. I never gave up. I saw Il Canale the way it [is] today. I saw it. I knew that, with my experience and concept, I could take on anything. Just like in karate: just step on it and go, you know? I knew it was gonna happen.”