When Kira and Mark Zabrowski first opened the Shakespeare-themed Much Ado About Pizza in Pleasanton, California, some folks had their doubts. “Everyone thought we were just ‘playing pizza,’” Kira told PMQ. “What do two teachers know about running a pizzeria? Nothing! That’s why I think pizza chose me.”

And thereby hangs a tale…

Less than two years after launching Much Ado About Pizza, the Zabrowskis have built a booming carryout pizza business that was recently named one of Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat for 2024. And we’re not just talking about the country’s top 100 pizzerias here—this list covers all restaurants nationwide, from steakhouses to sushi joints and fine-dining concepts.

Related: How giving away free pizza fueled Domino’s big comeback in 2023

Whimsical, witty and original, the Zabrowskis’ concept also has been named one of PMQ’s 20 Brands to Watch in the upcoming April 2024 issue. In keeping with their theme, they name their sourdough-based pies after Shakespearean characters and play titles, including the Ham-let, a pair of rivals called the Capulet and the Montague, and the Fowl-staff, appropriately topped with chicken (if you know, you know). There’s even a cartoon portrait of the Bard himself on the wall to create Instagrammable moments for literature nerds (like your humble PMQ editor-in-chief).

In this exclusive Q&A, Kira, a member of the U.S. Pizza Team and a pizzaiola of ever-increasing renown, shares the story behind the award-winning pizza shop. Play on!

This photo zooms in closely to show the pillowy crumb structure of the pizza crust.

Much Ado About Pizza

PMQ: How did Much Ado About Pizza come to life?

Kira Zabrowski:
When COVID hit and we had to shelter in place, I realized that I felt really stuck. My family unit was really suffering, and, after 25 years of teaching, it was not fulfilling to me anymore. I was no longer excited about running my program nor was I motivated to accomplish any more than what I had done in my career as a teacher. Even though I knew it would not be forever, teaching Theatre Arts to teenagers online was wearing on me, and it was really hard to keep up a brave and energetic persona when the students were so detached, uninterested and unmotivated. I can’t say that I couldn’t blame them. I mean, how can you stay focused on school when you are on the same device you play video games and watch YouTube videos on?

Anyway, that Christmas my husband gave me the book Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast by Ken Forkish. Secretly, I think his motivation was just a little…self-serving. I think he really wanted fresh bread around all the time. Well, I was very excited because I loved to bake, and I especially wanted to get better at baking bread and to learn to make sourdough. Also, due to suffering from stomach issues my entire life, I found that I was feeling better because I was eating our fermented dough and, because it has no added sugars or preservatives, my body was processing the proteins better, and it was easier to digest. So, I eagerly dived right in and started baking up a storm.

After a few weeks or so, I found myself at the back of the book, marveling at the pizza recipes. I thought, “This is it! Baking bread is great fun, and I enjoy it a lot. But it’s not a bakery. I want to start a pizza shop!” I wanted to retire from teaching and become a pizzaiola!

I suddenly found myself watching YouTube videos on how to do everything pizza. I found out about the International Pizza Expo, and I was like, what? An entire expo about all things pizza? Sign me up!

Long story short, I started writing up a business plan and grabbed every book I could find on running a pizzeria—Unsliced by Mike Bausch, Growing Pizza by Michael Shepherd, The Pizza Equation by Nick Bogacz—to name a few, and dedicated my free time to all things pizza. My pizza journey started with Ken Forkish’s book, but I also experimented with recipes from the King Arthur All Purpose Baking Company’s Companion, Tony Gemignani’s The Pizza Bible and Dan Richer’s The Joy of Pizza.

This photo shows Kira and Mark, with their chins eating on their hands, smiling at the service counter with a pizza in front of them.

Much Ado About Pizza

PMQ: For a newcomer to the industry, you’ve already made a big splash on the pizza competition scene. How did you make this transition from teaching to opening a restaurant and becoming an award-winning pizzaiola?

Zabrowski: In March of 2021, my husband and I decided to create LLC Much Ado, showed up to the International Pizza Expo in Vegas that August, went to as many seminars, workshops and demos that we could, and did a ton of networking. When we got back, while still teaching, we made plans to start looking for a brick-and-mortar and planned to go back to the Vegas 2022 Expo and compete in the upcoming International Pizza Challenge.

In January 2022, we found our brick-and-mortar in Pleasanton, gathered up our life savings and started doing pop-ups at the local wineries in Livermore to get our name and pizza out for the public to try and to raise money for our local food banks. In March, we both competed at Expo. There I placed fourth in the world overall in the International Pizza Challenge’s Traditional division and finished second in the Southwestern division. In April, we signed our lease, and on June 10 we both finished grading papers and then opened our doors on June 11, 2022.

PMQ: As a long-ago English major, I love your pizzeria’s name—Much Ado About Pizza. Of all the famous Shakespeare quotes and play titles, how did you settle on that one?

Zabrowski: Actually, the name just came to me. Initially, I had thought of the name “Pizza Love,” but that name was already registered, and it really didn’t say much about me or us. Then one day, I just woke up and thought, “What about…Much Ado About Pizza?” It is so me! I love theatre, I love Shakespeare, and we love pizza! It was a perfect name.

In all actuality, I worked for the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. after graduating college, taught Shakespeare for a number of years, and I have directed and performed in a handful of Shakespearean plays.
Here is a little fun “faux” backstory I wrote about how we founded our business:

The Bard’s Quest For the Perfect Pizza
Little do people know about what the greatest Dramatist of all time, William Shakespeare, was doing during what scholars have considered his “lost years,” 1585-1592. Some scholars believe he was off studying abroad or was in the country working as a schoolmaster. Others say he became a soldier or he was on the run from the law to escape punishment for poaching a deer on Sir Thomas Lucy’s estate. The truth is that the “Bard” was actually in search of… the PERFECT PIZZA! He was infatuated with finding that perfect heavenly pizza pie.

“It shall hath a complex, flavorful crust with a caramelized crunchy outer shell and be soft and slightly chewy on its inner open crumb. Thy crust would hath thy strength to hold up many toppings and leave’th the back of one’s palette singing with a slight tang. Thine amazing artisanal crust would be adorned with an aromatic, bright, and bold tomato sauce. Atop’eth thy divine sauce would be the perfect blend of artisanal cheeses that pull’eth dramatically away from thy crust. Nestled upon thy glorious amount of cheeses would be a generous amount of fresh, seasonal, high qualit’eth ingredients. Thy melody of this crust, paired with mine own special sauce, and premium cheese will be truly poetical!”-WS

Hence, Shakespeare ate his way through Italy, Sicily, Rome, Greece, New York, Detroit, Chicago, Missouri, Ohio and California. He tried every kind of pie he could get his hands on. Finally, after having traveled all over, he decided that he would create the one true pizza recipe. The recipe that he considered was the pizza recipe of all recipes, the secret recipe to the “perfect pie,” and he hid his culinary secret in his play, Much Ado About Nothing. After many years of painstaking research and study, we are delighted to say that we have finally decoded his recipe and happily present it for all the world to experience.

So, take a trip back in time and treat yourself to the most savory slice of yesteryear. We thank you, Bill Shakespeare, wherever you are, for your ingenious culinary poetry!!

This photo shows a slice of the Titania's Bounty pizza, topped with colorful veggies like yellow and orange bell pepper slices, sliced tomatoes, broccoli crowns and black olives

Titania’s Bounty (Much Ado About Pizza)

PMQ: That is so great. I especially like the line, “Atop’eth thy divine sauce would be the perfect blend of artisanal cheeses that pull’eth dramatically away from thy crust.” So what are your best-selling items on the Much Ado About Pizza menu?

Zabrowski: Our best-selling menu items are Henry the ‘8’, Montague, Titania’s Bounty and Viola’s Veggie. Our most popular sides are our regular cheese “Bard” bread and our Stuffed “Bard” bread. We have some epic dipping sauces, too, including the Hero (fig balsamic), Benedick (Alfredo and garlic) and Salsa Parmesean.

PMQ: Where are you headed in the future?

Zabrowski: We are passionate about pizza, the industry, and pushing ourselves to be better. We want to continue to grow by hiring additional staff and to perhaps expand the business by finding an additional location that will offer a sit-down experience and to add on a fulltime catering business.

As former teachers, we also feel the need to continue mentoring young people. So we will continue to offer employment to high school students and perhaps offer pizza classes to young and old alike. A fun and whimsical book about our crazy journey is also in the making.

Lastly, it would be super cool to one day hold an annual Bay area pizza festival that would include other local independently owned pizzerias. The goal of the festival would be to raise funds for our local food banks and to help people nationwide by partnering with Slice Out Hunger.

Marketing, Pizzerias