By Rick Hynum
Peter Izzo has famously looked for romance on reality TV shows—specifically, ABC’s The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise—but he never had much luck. No big deal. After all, the Long Island, New York, native has already found his one true love: pizza.
As the co-owner/chef of Peter’s Pizzeria in Florida—one in Port St. Joe and another in Boca Raton—Izzo cultivated a “bad boy” image for TV. He’s the guy who threw a rival’s prized jacket into the swimming pool in The Bachelorette in 2021 and last year called bachelorette Brittany Galvin—with whom he went on an awkward date on Bachelor in Paradise—a “clout chaser.”
Izzo’s stints on both shows were short-lived, but that’s likely by design. Every good reality TV show needs a villain. And it’s a role Izzo played to the hilt. But, in an interview with PMQ, the young pizzaiolo came across as good-natured, friendly, smart—and highly knowledgeable about pizza. If you want to see him get excited, ask him about his dough. Ask him about his Sicilian pie or his sandwiches. He’s all smiles and positive, upbeat energy.
And it’s doubtful this young Italian stallion needs to go on TV to get a date. Besides, his two pizza shops keep him plenty busy. “I’m very happy with the relationship I’m in with Peter’s Pizzeria,” Izzo says, with a chuckle. “She’s always really good to me. There’s no fighting going on.
“I’m not just doing this to make money,” he adds. “I really am passionate about what I do. I tell my guests all the time, if I could do this for free and not have to worry about paying bills, I’d do it for free.”
“I’m very happy with the relationship I’m in with Peter’s Pizzeria. She’s always really good to me. There’s no fighting going on.”
— Peter Izzo, Peter’s Pizzeria
Long Island Roots
Izzo’s father moved to the U.S. from Italy in 1969. Once settled on Long Island, the Izzo family became regulars at the legendary Umberto’s Pizzeria, owned by Umberto Corteo. “Every family party or celebration, pretty much every Sunday, we spent going to Umberto’s,” Izzo recalls. “That was like a second home to me. His son was like a big brother to me.” On his 13th birthday, Izzo’s parents pulled him out of school for the afternoon, finalized some paperwork that would allow him to work part-time, and drove him to Umberto’s. “Umberto put the apron on me—my first one—and it’s a really emotional story,” Izzo says. “To this day, I still put my apron on like he taught me, and every time I put it on, I think of Umberto.”
Izzo started out washing dishes, moved up to busboy and, at 15, began working the counter. But Corteo had bigger plans for the youngster. “I remember Umberto telling me to stand in the corner and just watch,” Izzo says. “For three months he kept me on the payroll to literally stay in the corner, not touch anything and just watch.”
There was a lot to take in: eight pizza makers plying their craft with 10 ovens, pounding out pies, making mozzarella, sausage, breads and meatballs, and chopping meats and veggies. So Izzo watched and learned. When he was 18, he helped the Corteo family open its second Umberto’s store. While attending the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) in Manhattan, he also worked at the company’s Garden City and Wantagh locations. Then, in 2016, he studied abroad in Italy, where he learned even more about the restaurant business and ran the floor at a high-end Florence eatery that sold tickets to fill up its 25 seats every day.
After graduating top of his class from NYIT in hospitality management, Izzo managed an American-dining restaurant and catering hall. “It was, like, a 110-hour work week,” he remembers. “Just grind the kid until he blows up! You know, making $600 a week, which was fine—I didn’t know any different. Six hundred bucks a week! I thought I was making out, you know!”
“I remember Umberto [Corteo] telling me to stand in the corner and just watch. For three months he kept me on the payroll to literally stay in the corner, not touch anything and just watch.”
— Peter Izzo, Peter’s Pizzeria
Managing the Variables
But Izzo soon needed a break. He temporarily left the restaurant business and moved in with his brother, Bobby Pokora, in Miami. After returning to New York for a two-year stint at Patrizia’s, a multiunit restaurant company, he headed south to Florida again. There, he and Pokora took the plunge in 2019 and opened the first Peter’s Pizzeria location in Port St. Joe, under the HYD (How Ya Doin’?) Hospitality Group.
COVID-19 wasn’t a problem for them—Peter’s Pizzeria was practically tailor-made for the pandemic era, he says. “It turned out to be a godsend opportunity, because the whole concept of Peter’s was quick, to-go, delivery, curbside pickup, in and out. We just skyrocketed.”
Izzo put a lot of thought into his concept. Working with a company that specializes in creating the perfect water for chains like Starbucks and Chick-fil-A, he developed a proprietary water filtration system based on New York’s famous water. “I went online and got the water analysis on the top 10 pizzerias in New York and worked with that company to create a six-chamber reverse-osmosis water filtration system,” Izzo says. So the water he uses at Peter’s Pizzeria, he says, is identical to Long Island’s water, used to make dough for the pizzas he loved as a child.
“When you think about it, Starbucks is really a water-based company that sells coffee,” Izzo notes. “They have to manage every variable to offer the same cup of coffee everywhere. The same thing applies to pizza. We need to manage all of our variables—we use the same flour, tomatoes, cheese, oregano, etc., in each store. But, with some restaurants, you’ve still got different water at different locations. Not at Peter’s Pizzeria. Every variable is taken care of.”
A Labor of Love
The second Peter’s Pizzeria store opened in Boca Raton in late 2021. By September, Izzo and Pokora plan to open a third store that will serve as their flagship location in Pompano Beach. Pokora handles the finances, and Izzo is the pizzaiolo.
During his screen time on The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise, Izzo wasn’t exactly shy about promoting his pizzeria. Some of his castmates accused him of using the TV shows for that purpose alone. Izzo didn’t care. The man knows a marketing opportunity when he sees one. Even so, his pizza cred is unimpeachable. “Our pizza is like if Neapolitan meets New York-style and they get married,” he says. “I use a fresh yeast, which is difficult to obtain, work with and manage, because it’s alive. My kitchen is temperature-controlled, and I have a temperature- and humidity-controlled dough room only for making dough.”
Asked to describe the qualities of a top-of-the-line pizza, Izzo is off and running. “First, the crust should have that leopard-spotted undercarriage. And it should have a nice snap—you should be able to flick it and hear it. Just above the crust, you should be able to see a nice air pocket. Then you know your chemical balance came together the right way. Right where the dough meets the sauce, you should get a nice, little chew.
“The hardest pie I have ever had to make…is the Sicilian. It’s a pizzaiolo’s labor of love. If you see a pizzeria offering a Sicilian pie, it’s because they really love what they do.”
— Peter Izzo, Peter’s Pizzeria
“I’m not into a sweet sauce,” he adds. “We use the real-deal San Marzano DOP-stamped tomatoes. I never add sugar to my sauce. I personally believe people who use sugar in their sauce are trying to hide their tomato flavor because it’s lesser quality. The cheaper the tomato, the more acidic, and super-acidic gives you agita and makes your stomach upset. With my slice, two or three hours later you never feel bloated. You feel light. It’s a lifestyle slice.”
True to its New York roots, Peter’s Pizzeria offers a diverse menu that includes both a Sicilian and a Grandma pie. Florida, after all, is crawling with former New Yorkers and snowbirds, and Izzo wants to meet their high expectations for pizza. “The hardest pie I have ever had to make…is the Sicilian,” he says. “It’s a pizzaiolo’s labor of love. If you see a pizzeria offering a Sicilian pie, it’s because they really love what they do. I ferment the dough for 72 hours before I put a finger on it. I only use one flour for that dough, no blend. I use a dry yeast.” He leans in closer and smiles. “And I’ll let you in on a little secret: I put brown sugar and honey in that dough as well.”
And the Grandma pizza? “It’s baked in a cast-iron pan, so it’s essentially half-baked and half-fried in the oven,” he continues. “It’s super-thin, and it’s got a great snap, with really nice air pockets right between the snap on the bottom and where that dough meets the cheese on top.”
The Pizza King of Florida?
On social media, Izzo has proclaimed himself the “Pizza King,” a title he employs—for now anyway—with tongue in cheek. But he’s determined to change the way pizza is perceived in South Florida. He wants to give his customers a complete experience, an hour or so that they will remember and come back for again and again.
In short, Izzo wants Peter’s Pizzeria to be a “lifestyle pizzeria,” not just another pizza joint. If customers have to shell out their hard-earned money for pizza, they deserve to see a show. “We can go out for lunch or dinner anywhere,” he says. “I want something tangible when I go out to eat. I don’t just want a slice. I want ambience and an experience. When you come to Peter’s Pizzeria, you’re gonna get that. We make the pies right in front of you. A lot of these pizzerias in South Florida, they’re doing everything behind a wall. You don’t even see them making the pizza. We’re a traditional New York pizzeria. We’re right there in front of you. Everything’s on display. You’re gonna see us stretching and balling the dough. You’ll see our imported San Marzano DOP-stamped tomatoes, our Caputo 00 flour….It’s a tangible experience.”
When Izzo talks about his pizzerias, you get a glimpse of his true romantic nature. “People fall in love in restaurants,” he says. “First dates happen in restaurants. It’s where you celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, reunions. It’s where you celebrate life. For me to own a place that facilitates that, it makes me very emotional. It’s very special to me. So when I say Peter’s Pizzeria is a lifestyle pizzeria, I wholeheartedly mean that.”
Izzo sees a lot of opportunity to grow his brand in the Sunshine State. “I feel like I’m in the Wild West, like I’m in Vegas before it was Vegas,” he says. “I definitely want to continue to expand in South Florida. I feel like there’s a tremendous market here. With the new store opening and truly revolutionizing how pizza is perceived here—making it tangible and experiential—I’d love to eventually get down to Miami and go as far north as Palm Beach, Jupiter, Orlando, Sarasota, Tallahassee, St. Augustine.”
All that TV notoriety can’t hurt either. But Izzo fully expects to live up to his own hype. “I definitely see myself as expanding in Florida,” he says, “and maybe one day being the actual pizza king of Florida. And I don’t see why we can’t present this concept to a private equity fund, get investors, and take our model and copy and paste it all over the country.”
Rick Hynum is PMQ’s editor in chief.