How did you start in the pizza business?
Was your pizzeria passed down from your parents, or were you a diehard pizza fan who could not resist the pull to open your own slice shop?
Thirty years ago, after completing his time in the Marines, Tom Iannucci married a Hawaiian girl and left New York for a new life on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. “I told my wife, I love you, I love the island, but I ain’t eating this pizza,” says Iannucci. That’s when he began his quest to learn how to make traditional New York-style pizza.
With a brick oven and a tent set up in his driveway, the full-time pastor and long-serving Police Commissioner would hold pizza nights for friends and family two to three times a week. “People would stop me at Costco and ask, ‘When am I going to get invited to your house for some pizza?’,” says Iannucci.
Iannucci first reached out to PMQ in 2008. “I thought some insight into a Hawaii-based pizzeria would be interesting” says Iannucci, who at the time was a pizza fan who dabbled in freelance writing. He wrote the story, "Colenti’s Pizza: A Slice of Paradise," which appeared in PMQ’s September 2008 issue.
The next time I heard from Iannucci was in December of 2017, when he sent an update to let me know that he had opened his own pizzeria. “I wanted to touch base with you as I still faithfully read PMQ and go to your website. I finally made the jump from a pizza enthusiast to pizzeria owner on Kauai,” he said in the email. “I went to Naples and trained with Enzo Coccia for a month and got certified as a Neapolitan pizzaiolo. Our pizzeria, Pietro's Pizza Kauai became the first and only VPN-certified pizzeria in Hawaii. Of course, I still make my New York-style pizza, spending time with Mark Bello at Pizza a Casa in NYC and traveling around and sitting with some of the older, wiser guys like Franco Pepe and Roberto Caporuscio. We’ve been doing good, and I’m blessed.”
Iannucci says that Pietro’s Pizza is now considered the first certified AVPN pizzeria in Hawaii, he is the first Neapolitan Certified Pizzaiolo in the state, and the pizzeria is the westernmost Neapolitan and NY-style pizzeria in America.
After nearly 30 years making pizzas for family and friends, why do you suppose Iannucci made the leap to pizzeria operator? He says it happened when all three of his children were in college at the same time. “As a full-time pastor, I couldn't afford to pay for my children's college. Pastor's don't garner a big salary and I needed another way to bring in some income,” he says. “This time I told my wife, ‘Look, I know Jesus, the Yankees and pizza, and I don't think the Yankees are going to take me, so we better do pizza.”
Iannucci partnered with his friend Dave Erickson, and Pietro’s Pizza opened in 2015. “In our first full year operating a New York-style walk-up window and an indoor Neapolitan wood-fired pizzeria, we brought in $1.1 million in sales,” says Iannucci. “We became the buzz of the island and were named the Editor's Choice for Best New Restaurant on Kauai in Hawaii Magazine’s "Best of the Best" 2018 issue.”
Iannucci admits that a more globalized, food savvy culture has helped to make Pietro’s Pizza a success. “The pizzeria has been very well accepted and embraced,” he says. “I'm not sure if people would have been ready for this pizzeria five or seven years ago on this particular island. I feel like it’s my turn to bring something to the islands from my New York-Italian culture, and try to do that with excellence.”
For now, Iannucci says that Pietro’s has been receiving requests from around the island–and the world–to open more locations (the team plans to open a second location of Pietro’s this year). “Our goal is to be the that pizzeria that makes people say, ‘When you’re in Hawaii, you need to go there for pizza!’,” says Iannucci.
We wish Tom and the Pietro’s Pizza team continued success, and I look forward to visiting with him on my next trip to Hawaii!