Louie Bossi’s resume is impressive. The businessman, chef and pizza maker co-owns four different restaurants in South Florida under the Big Time Restaurant Group (BTRG) umbrella. Bossi was named one of the “10 Best Chefs in Broward County [Florida]” by the Broward Palm Beach New Times, and his Louie Bossi’s Ristorante, Bar & Pizzeria was named a “Best New Restaurant of 2015” and claimed the title of “Best Pizza in Broward,” per Thrillist.
When you consider the fact that Bossi battled addiction from a very young age, his resume becomes that much more impressive. He credits the people at BTRG for giving him a second chance in life—a chance he took and ran with. Now Bossi pays it forward by taking fellow addicts under his wing, giving them a job and guiding them toward a successful career in the world of restaurants.
“People don’t understand,” Bossi said. “Addiction is very hard to explain to people who don’t recognize that it’s a disease of the mind. I want to give people a second chance to thrive and become the person God intended them to be if they hadn’t turned to drugs and alcohol. I want to do that because people did it for me.”
To understand how all of this happened, you have to go back. Bossi suffered domestic abuse as a young child and was, in his own words, “shipped away” and neglected by his family. He relocated to New Jersey at age 11 and began a lifelong love affair with pizza at a local shop. It was a shop where he’d play arcade games and munch on whatever the chef was serving up. The chef took notice and invited Bossi to help him out in the kitchen. It started with washing dishes, but before long, Bossi was making pizzas.
“It’s amazing to think about,” Bossi said. “I started making pizza when I was 11 years old. I’m 56 years old now, and I still make pizza. What I found in that pizzeria [in New Jersey] was the family I was looking for.”
While Bossi was beginning to excel in the kitchen, he was falling behind in school. By the time he was 16, he was still in the eighth grade—he had no interest in attending classes, for the most part, and suffered from a learning disability. It was at that point that he dropped out of school altogether. It was a risk, but there were emotions bubbling under the surface that Bossi wasn’t quite sure what to do with. Even if he’d found family in restaurants, there were events that happened to him in his childhood that he couldn’t fully outrun. Instead of seeking out help, Bossi turned to drugs and alcohol. It would be years later that he finally sought out therapy and counseling—something he now encourages fellow addicts to do as soon as possible. But it was a different time then, too, and Bossi’s addiction proliferated.
“Alcohol and drugs were a way for me to self-medicate,” Bossi said. “Where I should’ve been going to counseling and therapy, instead, I was using.”
Bossi relocated to South Florida in 2000, partially to get away from the part of the world that had introduced him to drugs and alcohol. He joined Big Time Restaurant Group as a cook and, ironically, went out of his way to not mention his talents as a pizzaiolo. He wanted to learn how to cook non-pizza dishes in an Italian restaurant, and he figured if the chef found out he was a New Yorker with pizza skills, he’d be relegated to the pizza station for life.
“If you came to Florida in the ‘90s and you knew how to make pizza, you were like a king here,” Bossi recalled. “Because a lot of New Yorkers had relocated here, but the pizza was terrible back then.”
Bossi worked hard and found himself being promoted. To become a better chef, he grabbed as many food magazines as possible and poured over the recipes so he could work on them at home. While he may not have excelled in school, Bossi has a photographic memory that has served him well in his life as a chef. It made him especially good at memorizing recipes and then riffing on them and making them his own.
Eventually, Bossi returned to honing his skills as a pizzaiolo. He took classes with Tony Gemignani and other famed pizza makers to formalize his skills—think of it as someone who grew up speaking a language later taking classes in that language to better understand it. During that process, Bossi found most every style of pie to be in his wheelhouse, except for one: Neapolitan. He couldn’t get it right at first. It was too wet, and his dough was a mess. He felt like a fish out of water.
“I was embarrassed,” Bossi said. “But I was challenged by it. And I’d never even eaten it before so when I actually sat down to eat it, I was in heaven. Again, I took to the magazines and before I knew it, I wanted to get certified [as a Neapolitan chef].”
With the help and backing of BTRG, Bossi opened his first restaurant, Louie Bossi’s Ristorante, Bar & Pizzeria, in June 2015. Neapolitan pizza, now something Bossi had mastered, was on the menu. It was a hit right out of the gate, with the Sun Sentinel’s food critic exclaiming, “I am in awe of Louie Bossi, both the chef and the restaurant.”
Since then, Bossi and BTRG have opened up three more Italian restaurants. Pizza isn’t necessarily the focus of any of them, but it’s on the menu at each restaurant. It’s Neapolitan-stye, too—Bossi did go on to get certified by the AVPN. Bossi is a member of the World Pizza Champions Team and took second place in “Best Pizza Maker” at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas in March 2016.
At each restaurant, Bossi goes out of his way to hire other addicts. When asked why, he cites a close friend of his who he helped get sober. Now that man is the executive chef at City Oyster & Sushi Bar, another acclaimed restaurant in the BTRG portfolio.
“I helped get him sober and now he’s thriving,” Bossi said. “He has a wife, two kids, and he owns a boat. I get to see him every day. So that’s why we give them second chances.”