Metro Pizza co-owner John Arena says the pizza industry has long mirrored Italian culture as a whole.
“They always say that it is a matriarchy disguised as a patriarchy,” Arena said of the latter.
And that was his experience in the earliest days of his career, which now has spanned more than 50 years.
“I didn’t see any women pizzaiolos,” Arena said, “but I did see women in the restaurants. There was always a nonna in the back, making sauce. There were always women behind the scenes.”
But that’s changing, with a new generation of women not only entering the industry but assuming leadership roles. And the change will be celebrated during the Las Vegas Pizza Festival Nov. 16 at The Industrial Event Space, 2330 Industrial Road. Among the 20 pizzaiolos participating will be three women running the Women in Pizza booth.
Arena said he thinks the reason pizza-makers traditionally were men was the amount of physical labor involved.
“It came from a baking tradition, and the bakers were all men,” he said. “Before mechanical mixers it all had to be done by hand. The perception was that it was too physical.”
That’s a perception with which Audrey Kelly, who will be at the Women in Pizza booth, agrees.
“It’s physically hard work,” said Kelly, who owns Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage in Boulder, Colorado. “At the end of the day I’m usually exhausted.”
“It’s labor-intensive,” agreed colleague Nicole Bean, president and owner of Pizaro’s Pizza in Houston.
Both said there also was a lack of female role models, although that’s changing as well. Arena said Georgia Caporuscio, who has taken over the prominent pizza-making school started by her father, Roberto, “is a phenomenal educator. There’s going to be a whole new generation of pizza makers coming up who were taught by a woman.”
And not just one. Laura Meyer, who also will be in the Women in Pizza booth, was regional corporate chef for Tony Gemignani, a 13-time World Pizza Champion whose 21 restaurants include three in Southern Nevada. The first certified master instructor in the U.S., he opened the International School of Pizza in San Francisco, where Meyer now is the administrator and a teaching assistant.
Her career started, Meyer said, when she took her first high school job at one of Gemignani’s pizzerias in 2006.
“Tony and his crew were very supportive,” she said, “but there were things that reminded me, ‘Oh, yeah, you are the only female, and a young girl.’ “
Kelly, who Arena said was the only graduate of Gemignani’s school to whom he immediately offered a job, said she fell in love with the craft on a journalism internship in Italy and upon returning, decided it would be her profession. Although she says it’s still somewhat rare to see women making pizzas, “Laura and I and several other influential women in pizza are trying to change that.”
Bean said her father, who had a passion for pizza, encouraged her.
“It’s something that my dad kind of pushed me into, taking the forefront on the business and learning the customer aspect first,” she said. “There are not a lot of women, outside your grandmother or your nonna, to teach you how to make pizza. There really aren’t any female mentors. Laura is kind of one of my mentors. The funny thing is that she’s younger than I am.”
Bean is 32, Meyer 30, Kelly, 34. And Arena said they represent the rising tide of female leadership in the industry.
“Now that these women have been given the opportunity, they’re doing some remarkable things,” he said. “Laura’s an amazing competitor. Audrey’s an entrepreneur, and Nicole is second-generation — instead of handing the business to a son, a woman took over.”
Alexandra Mortati, creative director for Orlando Foods, which will supply ingredients for the booth and Women In Pizza branding, said she’s seeing more and more women in the industry getting recognized for their talents.
“We wanted to do something that would allow them to have a platform, tell their stories and talk about their impact on the industry,” she said.
“Women have been more modest and they’re not worried about being known and they concentrate on their craft,” said Casey Derk, Orlando’s marketing manager. “We’re here to help them be known in the pizza industry.”
Arena, who is organizing the festival along with Vincent Rotolo, owner of Good Pie, said the women will be the only non-local pizzaiolos involved.
“They’re doing their prep at one of my stores,” he said. “Which is great for me, because I get to steal ideas from them. I’ll have hidden cameras everywhere.”
■ What: The inaugural Las Vegas Pizza Festival
■ When: 1 to 4 p.m. Nov. 16
■ Where: The Industrial Event Space, 2330 Industrial Road
■ Tickets: $45 for general admission or $50 general admission for one adult and one child younger than 8. $85 for VIP, with noon entry, free beer and wine and additional food in the VIP lounge
■ Information: vegaspizzafest.com