“I am a train that never stops”
Our chitchat with Pasquale Di Maio starts like this. His long travel starts from Posillipo, then passes through Mondragone up to the United States, specifically in Minneapolis (Minnesota), and it is not finished yet. Over there, he is living his “pizzaiolo”-entrepreneur life with great success. Small detail, Pasquale had a past job as a bank employee, which he left for the American Dream, and now he is going to tell us his journey.
We could start with “based on a true story”, your adventure is like a movie, how does your journey begin?
«It starts long time ago, when I was just a kid, my family had restaurants and pizzerias around Naples. I was trying to earn some money to handle my youth, I worked for them and there began my first sight love with the kitchen. Anyway I was following my father’s footprints, as a bank employee. My high school graduation, then the university and finally my bank occupation. A decennial career full of successes, allowed me to move in a Mondragone filial as a “reward”, close to my place. Is there any better that could happen to me? It was the worst instead».
Bank employment, close to your place, everything was perfect…so what?
«I am not that kind of white collar guy, I don’t like the neons and the desks, I was feeling like a number and nothing more, I was not satisfied, I had the need to escape for a while. I took a trip to the USA, to my uncle in Minnesota, and starting from that moment everything changed. A villa, a Cadillac, two restaurants, he was living adream life. It was him mocking at me and offering the chance to return one day. I saw the potential for “great stuff”, America was my only thought».
What happened next?
«I went back there the following year, I met a girl, she would later become my wife. For three years Italy-Minnesota back and forth, gaining the attention of the authorities for all the marks on my passport (laughing). I made up my mind, I did not want to be a bank employee anymore, I went back to Italy to get my stuff and to quit my job. So, a brand new start».
A new life, in the USA.
«New life. One year and half in California, I worked there as a representative manager in a Yacht Club, a chance to improve my English, but pizza was my passion. I went back to Minnesota for my uncle’s death, I stayed there. I started working in his restaurant as “Gigi” the way he used to be called. He was famous around here, he was one of the Italian kitchen pioneers in Minneapolis, especially “partenopea”. He cooked typical Neapolitan dishes and he usually reacted pretty bad to weird American requests (laughing again). Today, I am the owner of three caterings: Vesuvio’, pizza and Italian kitchen; Chuckwagon, barbecue; and Special events, all the gourmet. Thanks to our three websites I can easily handle all my customers’ needs, even the location preparation with tables, chairs and marquees».
From the bank desk to the American cookers, luck favors the bold, but it is not enough for such a leap.
«They say I am lucky. But you build your luck by yourself. I started with thousand euros, sweating and getting my clothes dirty in restaurants and with my savings I started my own business creating a “chiavica” (awful!) website. My success is tied up with my pizza, not by chance or luck. Ten years ago I threw a party with my neighbors, I bought a small oven and cooked my first experimental pizza. After a month, a lady knocked on my door, asking me to cook my pizza at her daughter’s baptism, offering a payment, of course. I accepted, but I took no money, it was a success. That was the spark: a license, an old van and two shovels for the dough. With parties I started making money. I even introduced my pizza in my restaurant – my uncle did kitchen only – starting from that moment the business went crazy. Pizza is still the engine of my business, it is thanks to “her” that newspapers talk about me (laughing)».
Did you ever “betray” yourself and the Neapolitan culinary culture in your blood to satisfy “American requests”?
«Everyday (laughing). Jokes aside, when in Rome do as the Romans do. Pizza is Neapolitan, but the 30% of my revenue comes from the “Hawaiana”: ham, mozzarella and pineapple, I can not accept this (laughing). Customers like it and I adapt. However, I don’t allow everything. For example the “Deluxe” with peppers, sausage and pineapple, that is way too much for me (laughing). Pizza is going very well here, I cook with seven ovens that burn all day long, I even have a project developing right now, a new opening, stay tuned».
Vice-president of the “Pizzaioli in Giro per il Mondo” association. An institutional role.
«An honor. We organized big events, as the two “crociere del pizzaiolo”, one through the “Adriatico”, the other one in the “Mediterraneo”. On board we have held courses, created schools for colleagues that wants to improve or to turn into instructors. On top of that, we offer the chance to learn the job. Thanks to our sponsors, we provide all the materials of the pizza world, raw and equipment, that our subscribers can buy at an advantageous price. We are still humble, but we are now considering ourselves as a vanguard, not long ago we found the “Accademia PGM”, already operative, even online, with video and tutorial lessons».
To finish, can will, bravery and even a bit of unconsciousness, be the dreamer’s recipe?
«You nailed it! True. Those are the three pillars. Follow your passion, turn it in to a job. You need bravery and will to always aim for the top, I never liked having a “boss”, I love to decide for myself. I tried to be fulfilled as a person, in general: to be happy. Today I have twenty-two employees, eight of them have been following me for years, we are a really true family».
Are you going to leave everything again and start back as a bank employee?
«No. I am staying here, I would do everything that again».
By Pasquale Di Sauro
FROM MAGAZINE INFORMARE NUMBER 216
For the Italian version click here