New Year chat with Alessio Lacco
If you follow any pizza pages on social media, you have probably seen pictures of the Atlanta Pizza Truck. A small, bright blue, ape truck with a fully operational pizza oven mounted on the truck bed, the little truck became internet famous in 2020. We recently called up the man behind the pizza truck, Chef Alessio Lacco, to hear about how the pizza truck was born, learn more about his journey through the American pizza world, and chat about his big plans for 2021.
When and how did you get into pizza making? Why pizza, opposed to other Italian culinary specialties?
Well, I grew up in Naples, Italy, so I grew surrounded by fantastic foods, especially pizza. Of course, as a child I would help in the kitchen, with my grandma showing me how to make fresh pasta, for example. Towards the end of high school, I was looking for a job, and I ended up working making gelato, in coffee bars, and doing pizza deliveries. Of those experiences, I enjoyed working in the pizzeria the most; I appreciated the comradery. It was fun to help out with the little things, like cutting cheeses, helping to prepare the dough, etc.
The summer after that, my uncle was running a pizzeria and I was hired to help. I discovered the world of VPN (Verace Pizza Napoletana) when I was working there. I started to really learn more about the history and details of working with pizza and I fell in love.
What was it like to be mentored by Gaetano Esposito?
Gaetano is a mentor and a friend. I learned quickly that in Naples making pizza is an art. Normally, you need to be from a family of pizza makers to find your way or else no one will teach you anything. Gaetano was different.
He mentored me like a father would a son. I started at the bottom, delivery pizzas, and Gaetano—the grandson of Raffaele Esposito, who created the Margherita Pizza for Queen Margherita of Savoy in 1889—took the time to show me everything he knew. For some reason, which I am grateful for to this day, Gaetano paid special attention to me. I spent 2 years training with him, and whenever I get the chance to I go to visit him.
How long have you been in the US? What did you start with when you arrived? How was it transitioning from Naples to the USA?
I left Italy to take a job in Dallas, Texas in 2013. I worked as a pizzaiolo at Cane Rosso when they opened the second location. The difference in the pizza culture was significant. It was not easy for me at first. I kept things very traditional: no pepperoni, no pineapple, I stretched the dough the traditional Neapolitan way. Eventually, though, with the help of my second mentor who hired me at Cane Rosso, I started to become more flexible.
I began to explore different styles like New York style and Chicago style pizzas and to be more flexible with toppings. I think it is important to adapt to the culture you find yourself in. Of course, I try to bring my tradition to the table but it is important to learn and try new things.
How did you end up working as a pizza consultant?
To be honest, I just fell into it. It just happened. After my time in Dallas, I took a job at a restaurant in the Bay Area in California. I ended up not being just the pizzaiolo, but more of a mentor for the team there. I had a more managerial, teacher role. It was a big difference compared to the work I had done in the past. I was introduced to the management side of the business. So that was the first step.
After, I started to go to more events, like the Pizza Expo, and began networking. I met with companies, suppliers, restaurant owners, etc. Basically, I just started to receive calls for helping start restaurants or manage pizzerias. In terms of my career, one job just sort of leads to another.
It is really enjoyable. I have the opportunity to share what I know and help people. I love being able to pass on what my mentors have taught me. And the joy of creating something with your own hands, with hardwork, it is infectious. It is fantastic to see people discover that sensation. Plus, I get to travel and meet new people that I would normally never have the opportunity to do.
Life—and business—have ups and downs. Can you share one peak moment and one challenging moment that stands out to you, looking back at your life and career in the world of pizza?
One of the moments I am most proud of was in 2015. I moved to Evansville, Indiana. It was a completely new, random place for me. I helped to open a Neapolitan pizzeria there. There was absolutely nothing like it there and we were competing with big chains. The community was used to eating Pizza Hut and other fast food types of pizza. Of course, since they had never had Neapolitan-style pizza they really didn’t know much about it. It was quite a risk. But they LOVED it. It was a fantastic feeling to make pizza for people who had never had it and watch them fall in love with it.
The Covid-19 pandemic and shutdowns were the biggest challenges, as I am sure it was for many people in the food industry. I had events and consulting jobs lined up with lots of travel required. Of course everything stopped and I found myself with no salary. It was a scary moment for sure. I decided to double down on social media and my wife brought up the pizza truck idea. We gave it a shot and it became super popular!
So, tell me about the Atlanta Pizza Truck: how did it start and how is it going?
I actually bought the truck in 2019. A friend and I had the idea of catering little private events and parties, but we were both very busy and it never really got off the ground. So for a year it basically just sat there. Everything changed with the pandemic. My normal job opportunities dried up with restaurants closed, events canceled, and reduced travel. My wife actually was the one who called it: it was time to launch the pizza truck.
We posted on a neighborhood group on Facebook that we were open for bookings and a lady requested a slot from 5 - 7pm. It was crazy! We had to scramble to set up Venmo and payment apps, wrote up a simple menu, and ended up making over 50 pizzas. It was a completely different experience to cooking in a restaurant. It took a little time to adjust for me, but people absolutely loved it. We have been so busy with it since then.
A few times we have traveled farther, like Jacksonville, but usually we stick pretty close to home. Lots of private parties and events, which are great. Plus now we work with some breweries, 5 or 6 different places, every weekend. I am super grateful for the positive response and I look forward to keeping it going!
What is next for you?
One thing I certainly want to try to do is establish a fixed location in conjunction with the Atalanta Pizza Truck. People keep asking me about it so I think the demand is there and people would really enjoy it. Also, I am working on an online pizza school, for Neapolitan style pizza but also other kinds. Home cooking is a huge trend now and I believe I have something to offer. Lastly, I have a big secret project in the works! It will be revealed towards the end of Spring 2021, so follow me on Instagram so you don’t miss out!
One last thing I want to say is I am very happy to be in this community: the suppliers, the pizza makers, the pizza lovers. There is so much passion, beauty and support in the community. To think I was going to study to be an accountant, can you believe it? Instead, I took this jump into pizza making, without really knowing what to expect, and I am grateful everyday for where I ended up.