By Alexandra Mortati, Women In Pizza

Coming from an Asian-raised family and a career as a CPA at a public accounting firm, Sunny Sun, owner of Sunnyside Pizzeria in Atlanta, never thought she’d end up in pizza. “I’m Chinese,” she said. “It’s believed, ‘If you spend the time and money to go college, why are you working in a restaurant?’ It was a little bit nerve-wracking in the beginning to tell my parents that I didn’t want to be a CPA anymore. It’s a good career, but I didn’t like it, and I was influenced by today’s culture where people ask, What are you passionate about?’ I found that after six years in finance, I was still asking that question. I knew I wasn’t in the right industry.”

Sunny left her finance career around the same time she became pregnant with her son, Kaiden. “I didn’t want to go through pregnancy stressed out and hating my job, and when we would gather with friends, running a pizza business was always a topic that came up. One day, a friend said they knew a pizza consultant who did Neapolitan pizza. My husband, David, and I were financially stable and realized we could do it if we wanted to. I was working 80-90-hour weeks during tax season, so he said, ‘I think it’s time to take this opportunity.’”

Sunny and David signed the lease in July 2021, a month after Sunny gave birth to Kaiden, and they opened Sunnyside Pizzeria the following summer. “We weren’t moving as fast as we wanted to. It took a while to get permits and logistic issues worked out. It took almost a year to get the restaurant up and running.”

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Sunny said she’s grateful for the help they had when they opened. “Thinking back to when we decided to make this move, I don’t know what I was thinking. We had no restaurant experience and didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t have recipes. We got really lucky in the whole process with people willing to help us.”

Two important people who provided assistance were Sunny’s parents, who came from China to help her when she had Kaiden and then returned prior to the grand opening. “Right before we opened, my parents came back from China because, otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to spend all that time at the restaurant.” Having a new baby and a new business is a delicate balancing act. “I’m sad that I spend less time with Kaiden, but I would rather he stays with family. It’s tough for parents now because you want to do the things that will make him proud of you one day, but you can’t do that if you’re spending every single minute with him. Either way, you have to sacrifice.”

This photo shows Sunny, against a dark backdrop, stretching out the dough of a pizza before baking it.

Courtesy of Sunny Sun

When it comes to Sunnyside Pizzeria, Sunny does everything besides make the food, though she did just become a certified pizzaiola through the AVPN in Atlanta. “I try to learn everything so I can know every position if I need to in case I’m needed. It’s really hard to hire right now, especially front-of-house staff. For a while, I was the server at the restaurant. Once I hired more for the front of house, I went back into operations and marketing, but I want to spend more time in the kitchen and learn from them.”

With a dream of doing a traditional Neapolitan crust topped with Asian fusion toppings and flavors from places she has been to that mean something to her, Sunny was inspired to become VPN certified. “I feel so much better than before because if I practice, I’ll keep getting better at it. I don’t feel I have to rely so much on our kitchen anymore. Our opening team and our consultant, Alessio Lacco, were really good with traditional Neapolitan food and authentic Italian dishes. We decided to put our innovative stuff aside for a bit so we can focus on making good traditional food before introducing the innovative part of our idea.”

This step-by-step approach goes back to Sunny’s CPA days, and Sunny sees a similar mentality with her female friends. “They say, ‘I want to do this before I do that,’ but guys don’t care—‘I’m just going to do it because I want to.’ Sometimes, it’s harder for women to start something because there’s so much in our minds we are trying to take care of. We’re overthinkers. But I don’t want to look into being a woman too much, and I try not to look into being an Asian too much. I don’t want to let it affect me.”

“It’s really hard for me to get my point across to other people,” she adds. “I’m not confrontational, and I have to be extra confrontational. As a woman, you’re expected to be nice but not too strong, but you need to be [strong] to make people listen to you. I’m trying to push myself to be firmer with the things I say. It’s always been a weakness in my life, and that’s why I try not to make connections to it being because I’m a woman. It might just be my personality. In my mind, it’s harder for a woman in the restaurant industry to make a place for herself amongst all of these guys. The back of the house is majority male, and you have them talking the way they talk while you’re trying to blend into their environment. I can see a difference in how my husband and I talk to vendors and employees. For example, when we tried to get equipment, vendors kept pushing our time slot. I’m trying to be polite, but I told David he had to talk to them. I’m trying to learn from him and how he talks to people.”

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Sunny’s advice for other women is “to not be afraid. Just start what you want to do. As women, we like to figure everything out first, but sometimes the order is, you start something, and then you figure it out. In the beginning, I kept asking what permits I needed and what order, and no one gave me a concrete answer. I never imagined we’d need a grease trap permit. To others, it was normal, so they didn’t think to mention it to me. We stretched this process out and could have done better, so learn from your mistakes. There are things you can be doing at the same time. For example, we didn’t do as much marketing as we should have early on.”

When it comes to Sunnyside Pizzeria itself, Sunny wants to bring back authenticity. “I know I get customers thinking, ‘Why is an Asian girl opening an Italian restaurant?’ It’s an accident that I got into pizza, but I value tradition and authenticity. If I’m doing something, I want to do it the right way—the Italian way. Even if I’m trying to be innovative, I want to respect traditional and authentic elements. I want to build an environment where people walk in and feel like they are somewhere else and forget about their day jobs. A really good restaurant has good food, but it also is an experience. We still have a lot of work to do!”

Sunny may see her new career in pizza as an accident, but, when you talk to her, it quickly becomes apparent that it’s what she was meant to do. Through her perseverance and passion, she’s discovering her voice and gaining confidence. She’s hungry for knowledge, humble, capable, determined and just getting started. Next time you’re in Atlanta, make sure you reach out, grab a slice, and talk all things pizza, business and authenticity!

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