By Alexandra Mortati, Women In Pizza

Nicole Russell, the owner and pizzaiola of Last Dragon Pizza in Rockaway, New York, is also becoming one of the pizza industry’s most prominent personalities. She’s the host of First We Feast’s Pizza Wars and has made pizzas (and other dishes) with some of the industry’s best-known chefs even while building her own reputation as a master pizzaiola.

Nicole encourages everyone she meets to embrace curiosity, ask questions, do the research, and never shy away from trial and error. She’s proof that determination and hard work pay off and a guiding light for those looking for a way to follow their passion.

Nicole didn’t always know pizza was in her future. Born and raised in Rockaway, she attended NYU School of Professional Studies where she earned a Multi-Media Design Certificate.

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When Hurricane Sandy hit, Nicole turned to pizza. It was a trying time—her home was affected, and her sister was diagnosed with cancer. She studied YouTube videos and began serving pizza to the construction workers on her block as a thank-you for the hard work they were doing to help rebuild the community. The construction workers loved Nicole’s pizza and quickly turned into customers.

In 2014, Nicole came up with the Last Dragon Pizza concept to officially start selling her pizza from home. Last Dragon Pizza is an homage to Nicole’s favorite movie, The Last Dragon, and her community. All of her pizzas are named after characters and memorable scenes.

In 2016, Nicole expanded her business to include Last Dragon Pizza’s frozen pizza product, called Little Dragons. In 2017, she won the top prize in the Queens Economic Development’s 2017 StartUP! Business Plan Grant Competition. Since then, Nicole has been featured in numerous publications.

In 2023, Last Dragon Pizza was named one of the top Black-owned pizzerias in the U.S. by Travel Noire, a leading publication covering Black culture.

As host of Pizza Wars, Nicole has slung dough alongside master chefs like Frank Pinello, Mark Iacono and Wolfgang Puck as well as celebrities like actor Michael Imperioli and hip-hop artist Ghostface Killah.

Currently, Last Dragon Pizza is the only black-owned pizza business certified by Minority Owned Business Enterprise and the New York City Department of Education.

Nicole is an incredible success story who is always willing to share what she’s learned. Next time you’re in New York, be sure to order a pizza from Nicole and say hello!

Alexandra Mortati is the marketing director for Orlando Foods and founder of Women In Pizza, a not-for-profit organization that empowers women in the pizza industry to share their stories, display their talents, inspire innovations, and connect with one another and the world. This article originally appeared on the Instagram account for Women In Pizza. Click here to learn more about the organization.

Marketing, Pizzerias