Hisham Abdelfattah has worked just about every job in a restaurant, from busboy on up to his current role as Executive Chef and managing partner of Willow Street Pizza, located in San Jose, California. The restaurant is known as one of the Bay Area’s pioneers in the wood-fired pizza space, having cooked on almond wood from Santa Cruz, with pizza dough made from double zero flour that undergoes a several-days-long fermentation process, since it opened in 1991.

Willow Street Pizza is known for being deeply embedded within the two respective neighborhoods its locations occupy. It’s also where Abdelfattah formerly served as kitchen manager. Now, he’ll look to carry on Willow Street’s proud tradition while carrying it forward in his own culinary image.

Though he’s worked in kitchens since he was 15 years old, Abdelfattah’s career trajectory got turned into overdrive at the outset of the pandemic. A Palestinian-Filipino American by birth, Abdelfattah was entitled to government unemployment checks when restaurants shuttered as the COVID-19 virus spread across the Bay Area. What kept Abdelfattah up at night, though, was all of the undocumented workers that were his work family—how were they going to earn a paycheck?

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A chef, Hisham Abdelfattah, stands in a kitchen with an apron on

Willow Street Pizza

So, with about $1,000 to his name, he launched a food truck with the backing of Ed Rathmann—owner of Willow Street Pizza, as well as a friend and mentor to Abdelfattah. Based in Fremont, El Halal Amigos began serving Halal-certified street tacos across the Bay Area in spring 2020. The idea for Halal-certified tacos was a true “be-the-change-you-wish-to-see-in-the-world” style maneuver: Abdelfattah had recently converted to Islam and could no longer find places to eat great tacos in the Bay.

“I couldn’t go anywhere for great Mexican food anymore, especially in San Jose—and that was really disheartening,” Abdelfattah told Eater in 2022.

It turned out other people wanted Halal-certified street tacos, too. At least, they wanted the ones El Halal Amigos was serving up: The truck was such a smashing success that Abdelfattah decided to open a brick-and-mortar location in San Jose in February 2022. Eventually, Abdelfattah’s work earned him the honor of being named to Silicon Valley Business Journal’s “40 under 40” list in 2023. He also has nearly 3,000 followers on Instagram and has recently appeared on Food Network’s “Guy’s Grocery Games” and “Battle of the Decades.”

Also in 2023, Rathmann approached Abdelfattah with an idea. The owner of Willow Street Pizza was wanting to wind down how much time and effort he was spending running his pair of restaurant locations, the first of which had opened all the way back in 1991. He thought it was time for a new chapter, and wanted to see if Abdelfattah would come on as executive chef and managing partner to help write a new chapter at the storied pizzeria.

Abdelfattah, who draws culinary influence from around the world, leapt at the idea. One of the first things he did was book a one-month trip to Italy where he could further immerse himself in Italian cuisine and the pizza-making process. He knew the restaurant had a reputation for serving some of the best Italian-American food—and pizza—in the Bay Area, and to uphold and even further that, he’d have to learn from the best.

A plate with lasagna on one side and slices of cheese pizza on the other.

Willow Street Pizza

“That really broadened my horizons,” Abdelfattah said. “Willow Street isn’t Italian food necessarily, but it’s Italian influenced. We make really, really high-quality food and I thought it would be a great place for me to come and flex and try new things and do new things.”

There are dimensions Abdelfattah will never change about the menu. He’s acutely aware of which dishes have performed for over 30 years. There are pastas, pizzas, salads and desserts that have stood the test of time. One example would be the Willow Burger, the true Hallmark of the menu, which is 9 ounces of Braveheart Angus Beef, bacon, caramelized onions, gorgonzola cheese, lettuce, tomato and roasted garlic aioli served on wood-fired flatbread with a side of garlic fries. Items like that aren’t going anywhere.

A group of restaurant employees stands in Willow Street Pizza.

Willow Street Pizza

Abdelfattah also won’t ever change the portion sizes, the quality of the food and the value diners have come to expect from Willow Street Pizza. Especially when viewed through the lens of being a Bay Area restaurant—often regarded as the highest cost-of-living area in the U.S.—Willow Street’s menu prices are downright reasonable. Guests can get a downright delectable Neapolitan-style Margherita pie for $17.99.

The restaurant also offers promotions like “Kids Eat Free” Tuesdays, which is a 30-year tradition. There’s a Happy Hour, and more. Abdelfattah views all of this with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” perspective. He also believes they are part of the reason the two locations have become important destinations in their respective neighborhoods. It’s worth noting that Willow Street Pizza has raised and donated over $60,000 to local organizations in the past five years.

“Our locations are situated in the two very tight, niche communities of Willow Glen and Los Gatos,” Abdelfattah said. “These communities are really strong in their support. But we also give back in so many ways. We depend on the community and I think the community depends on us, too.”

There are areas, however, that Abdelfattah will explore to put his own imprint on the restaurant. For one thing, whether he admits it or not, the rising star brings a level of excitement to the restaurant that may make it a destination for not just the immediate neighborhood but for people in and around the Bay Area at large. His appearances on national television shows and the like automatically raise the restaurant’s profile. In other words, he’s the perfect person to take an already great pizzeria and elevate it to new heights.

“I think in general the restaurant hasn’t always done a good job telling its amazing story,” Abdelfattah said. “Going back to how much the community loves us, I think I can help tell that story and add to it by doing everything the restaurant has already been doing while also using Instagram and other mediums to show, ‘Hey, this is what we do and here’s how we do it.’ I think we can really take that to the next level.”