It is my pleasure to bring you a short interview with Bobby Aversa, co-owner and operator of brick oven pizzeria The Pizza Guy in Agawam, Massachusetts.
I don’t get to Agawam as often as I’d like these days, being that I live in Franklin County now and have a pregnant belly the size of a watermelon, but I fondly remember the excellent thin-crust pizzas that Bobby’s shop has made since 2007. Pizza lovers throughout the Pioneer Valley agree—The Pizza Guy makes a great pie!—as evidenced by the shop’s 2011 and 2015 wins in MassLive/The Republican competitions.
Learn some more about The Pizza Guy below and give them a try next time you’re in Agawam!
Noelle Serafino: How long has The Pizza Guy been in business and what inspired you to open a pizza shop?
Bobby Aversa: We will be celebrating our 10-year anniversary this April. I always wanted to own my own business and I always loved to cook and bake, especially pizza. So what better than to combine the two? A trip to Italy inspired me and gave me the vision on how I wanted to establish the business.
NS: What’s the best part about owning your own business? What’s the worst part about owning your own business?
BA: I would say the best part about owning your own business is having the freedom to create and implement your own ideas. Also, the challenge of succeeding on my own terms is extremely rewarding. I would have to say the worst part about owning your own business are the long hours. Some times we work 80 hours a week—not fun—but necessary to remain successful.
NS: Who taught you how to make brick oven pizza?
BA: I taught myself. I spent hours studying recipes and techniques. As I said, I traveled to Italy. I went to every pizzeria I could find. I would spend time watching how things were done and talking to different owners. For my dough, I consulted with scientists from General Mills and Pillsbury. For my sauce, while in Vegas, I talked my way into a celebrity chef’s kitchen and got his manager to share his sauce recipe with me. And after many hours of experimenting, I came up with the perfect blend of cheese.
NS: Can you tell me a little more about how the brick oven works? What temperature does it go up to? How long does it take to make a pizza? How many pizzas can you cook at one time? etc.
BA: The brick oven is shaped like a dome. This helps the brick walls heat up really fast from the heat source. The temperatures range from 600 to 800. At these temperatures, the heat bouncing off the inside walls evaporates moisture in the dough very quickly. This prevents the base of the dough from becoming soggy and results in a crispier crust. The average time to cook a pizza in my oven is between 3 and 6 minutes depending on the time of day and oven temperatures. I can cook 1 to 4 pizzas at a time, again, depending on the oven temperatures.
NS: Tell me about your staff: how many people work for you? Does everyone do a little of everything or does each individual have a distinct role? What is the training process like for pizza-making?
BA: I have a great staff. Making pizza is fairly simple; memorizing all the toppings on each specialty pizza takes a bit of time. Everyone is cross-trained which makes for a smooth workday.
NS: What’s an average day at The Pizza Guy like?
BA: An average day at The Pizza Guy is pretty routine. We fill orders throughout the day. Our busiest times are from 4 to 8. In the afternoon we do all of our prep work, which includes, but isn’t limited to, making our dough and sauce.
NS: What is your favorite thing on The Pizza Guy menu?
BA: We try to introduce a new specialty pizza every six months to a year. We recently debuted the General Tzo’s pizza. Currently it’s our best selling pizza and my favorite to make. We recently created a new pizza, which we will be debuting in a week or two. Stay tuned.
NS: What other pizza places do you like (either locally or elsewhere)?
BA: We travel all over New England to try various pizzerias. Right now we love a place called Bambolina’s in Salem, Ma. Also The Flat Bread Pizza Company. They have about 15 locations throughout New England. And our newest discovery, Savoy Pizzeria and Craft Bar in West Hartford. All of which use a wood fired brick oven.
NS: Your website says you grow some of your own vegetables (basil, peppers, tomatoes). What made you want to grow your own ingredients? Where do you source your other ingredients?
BA: Yes, we grow our own basil and peppers. We have land behind the pizzeria so we knew it would be a great idea. Literally, in the growing months, if you order fresh basil, we walk in the back, pick it, wash it, and its on the pizza the moment it comes out of the oven. We also buy locally from Morris farm in Agawam, and Calabrese in Southwick.
NS: Do you have any tips for home cooks looking to make a great pizza in their own kitchens?
BA: Yes, definitely buy a pizza stone and peel. Get the stone as hot as your oven will allow. Make the pizza right on the peel. Always use a pinch of cornmeal or semolina under the dough so it slides off the peel and on to the stone easily. Once you get the hang of it you’ll have perfect pizza every time.
NS: Are you of Italian heritage? How has your background influenced your work? How has it contributed to your love of food and cooking?
BA: Yes, I am Italian. I spent a lot of my childhood with my grandparents. I learned to garden with my grandfather, and cook with my grandmother. This is where I learned to make pasta, pies, meatballs, and sauce amongst other things. My grandmother was passionate about teaching me and was very patient. I loved being in her kitchen! I was no doubt influenced by this wonderful quality time.
NS: What’s your favorite food-related memory?
BA: My favorite food related memory is walking into my grandparents house on a Sunday afternoon and getting hit by the aroma of chicken cacciatore and polenta, my favorite meal growing up. I knew instantly it was going to be a great meal and day!
~ Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Bobby! I hope to stop by The Pizza Guy soon!~