- As a cast member of “Bachelor in Paradise,” Peter Izzo has a bad-boy rep, but in an interview with PMQ, he was friendly, good-natured and highly knowledgeable about pizza.
- The co-owner of Peter’s Pizzeria talks about his dough, his food, and his plans to grow the brand into a major force in Florida.
By Rick Hynum
Peter Izzo has been famously looking for romance on reality TV shows—specifically ABC’s “Bachelor in Paradise” and “The Bachelorette”—but, so far, he hasn’t had much luck. Well, 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 two Peter’s Pizzeria locations in Florida—one in Port St. Joe and a newer one in Boca Raton—Izzo has 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” last year and called fellow cast mate 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 reality show needs drama and conflict or viewers will click over to “House of the Dragon.” And every good TV show needs a villain. That’s a role Izzo has played to the hilt. But, in a recent PMQ interview, the young pizzaiolo came across as good-natured, friendly, smart and highly knowledgeable about pizza.
If you want to see Izzo get excited, just 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, and he plans to open a third shop—this one in Pompano Beach—by next May.
“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.’ This really means a lot to me.”
Roots in Italy and Long Island
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. [Corteo’s] son was like a big brother to me.”
On his 13th birthday, Izzo’s parents pulled him out of school, finalized some paperwork that would allow him to work part-time as a kid, and drove him over to Umberto’s to start his first after-school job. “Umberto himself was waiting for me, and from that day on, my name was Shorty—because I’ve always been tall,” Izzo says. “Umberto put the apron on me—my first one—and it’s a really emotional story. To this day, I still put my apron on like he taught me, and every time I put it on, I think of Umberto.”
Not too many 13-year-olds get that excited about donning an apron, but Izzo felt like he’d found his calling in life. He started out washing dishes in the back of the house and being hazed by Umberto’s crew—“getting abused, getting my head dunked in the dirty water, you name it,” he says.
He moved up to bus boy, and by 15, he started 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 just stay in the corner, not touch anything and just watch.”
There was a lot to take in, he recalls: eight pizza makers plying their craft with 10 ovens, pounding out pies, making mozzarella, sausage, breads and meatballs, and chopping meats and veggies.
When Izzo was 18, the Corteo family asked him to help open their 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. In 2016, Izzo 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 from NYIT at the top of his class 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!”
Managing the Variables
But Izzo soon decided he needed a break. He temporarily left the restaurant business and moved in with his brother, Bobby Pokora, in Miami. He was lured back to New York by the family that owns Patrizia’s, a multiunit restaurant company, but after a couple of years there, he headed south to Florida again. There, he and his brother took the plunge and opened the first Peter’s Pizzeria location in Port St. Joe in 2019 under the HYD (How Ya Doin’?) Hospitality Group.
COVID-19 wasn’t a problem for Izzo and Pokora—Peter’s Pizzeria was practically tailormade 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.”
Like any smart “pizzapreneur,” Izzo put a lot of thought into the concept. Working with a company that specializes in creating the perfect water for major 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 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, same 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.”
Ingredients for Success
A second Peter’s Pizzeria store opened in Boca Raton in late 2021. Izzo and Pokora are now planning a third store that will serve as the company’s flagship location in Pompano Beach. It’s a family-owned and -operated company through and through, Izzo points out. “My mother is involved as well,” he says. “My sister helped me run the first store in Port St. Joe in the first few months. We’re very proud that it’s a family business.”
Pokora handles the finances, and Izzo is the pizzaiolo—a role he knows well and takes very seriously. As mentioned before, just ask him about his dough and let him get on a roll.
“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.”
For most of his pies, Izzo uses a blend of Caputo 00 and All Trumps flours.
Asked to describe the qualities of a top-of-the-line pizza, Izzo is off and running again. “These things come to mind,” he says. “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.”
“I’m not into a sweet sauce,” he says. “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 angina 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 in my entire life, to this day, 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.” Izzo 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 I use only San Marzano DOP tomatoes and a Grande blend of whole-milk and part-skim mozzarella.”
“The Grandma pizza is 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.”
“I make all my bread fresh every single day, so our subs are rockstar! I make our meatballs from scratch. We cook the pasta dishes to order every time, so the pasta is never mushy, always al dente. We make our sauces from scratch and cook the marinara low and slow for 10 hours—never any sugar.”
A Lifestyle Pizzeria
On social media, Izzo has proclaimed himself the “Pizza King,” a title he employs—for now anyway—with tongue in cheek. But he’s legitimately proud of his slices and pies. He also aims to “revolutionize 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.
“To go out to a restaurant used to be an experience,” he says. “Going out to dinner when I was a kid, it was a big deal. You’ve gotta dress up, gel your hair, put on your nice shoes. Times are getting really tough now. It’s difficult for a family of four to go out to dinner and spend a couple hundred bucks. It’s frickin’ tough.”
If they have to shell out their hard-earned money for pizza, they deserve to see a show, Izzo believes. “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 reflects on his own restaurant experiences, he reveals 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,” he says. “It’s very special to me. So when I say Peter’s Pizzeria is a lifestyle pizzeria, I wholeheartedly mean that.”
Florida is the right place for a lifestyle pizzeria that also offers a true mom-and-pop experience. And 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 (next year) and truly revolutionizing how pizza is perceived in South Florida—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.”
“I definitely see myself as expanding [the brand] in Florida,” Izzo adds, “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.”
But will he have time for all of that when he’s also shooting Bachelor Nation shows?
“As of this moment right now, I have no future plans of doing more reality TV unless it’s a food-related show,” Izzo says. “I am single. Not that I’m not looking for someone, but I think I’m proud of the man I am today and who I’m becoming as a restaurateur, a man of my community and a leader to my employees and providing for them and their families. But I definitely would not shut the door on some kind of food-related TV program.”
Did you hear that, Food Network? The country’s most eligible pizza-making bachelor is available.
Editor’s note: Peter Izzo will be a culinary judge for the upcoming Galbani Professionale Pizza Cup, hosted by the U.S. Pizza Team, on Wednesday, Nov. 9, at the Pizza Tomorrow Summit in Orlando.