Pizza Week 2014 continues on Eater with Luca Varuni of the soon-to-open Varuni Napoli, the latest Neapolitan pizzeria to enter Atlanta’s burgeoning pizza market. Here, the Naples native and alum of “that other pizza place” chats about why he’s venturing out on his own, what Atlanta and Naples have in common— other than a love affair with pizza— and where you can find the best pizza in America (you’ll never guess…).
You’ve been in the pizza making business for a long time. How did you come up with this concept?
I come from a family of pizza makers, and I started with Antico a few years ago, and we had something very genuine there. I’d take my family there, my pizza making friends from Naples there, but eventually, I wasn’t happy with the product anymore, so I decided to leave. Some investors approached me about this concept, so I went back to Naples and started doing research about how to make my product authentic. My pizza will be different because it’s going to be made by real authentic Neapolitan pizza makers. Everyone here will be trained by me, coming directly from Naples. All of our ingredients come directly from Naples. We want it to be very interactive and instructive [The concept will have a make-your-own pizza bar, where customers can choose ingredients and ask questions of the staff]. We will also have an antipasto bar and a mozzarella bar. When people come here, they will come not just for the food, but for the experience.
What’s the process for making the pizza?
The dough will rise for at least 16 hours in a temperature and humidity controlled room, and we will then transfer it to a temperature controlled refrigerator, where it will sit for another four or five hours. Atlanta weather is actually very similar to Naples, so this is how we manage the humidity and protect the dough back home. 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit is the optimal temperature for the best pizza.
Why do you think Atlanta is so crazy about pizza?
It’s not just Atlanta. In the past seven to eight years, it’s happened all across the United States. There was a boom in authentic, Neapolitan pizza. When we opened Antico four years ago, people were in awe. The experience was very rustic. When you see real Italian people throwing pizza in front of you, the whole experience is very authentic. It was something new, something that they had never experienced before.
What’s your favorite kind of pizza?
Margherita. It’s simple. You can tell the quality and authenticity of a pizza place by the quality and authenticity of the margherita. Plus, in our margherita pizza, the sauce, the cheese, and the olive oil will all come from my region in Naples. I’m very proud of that.
What’s the timetable for opening?
As soon as possible. We hope to open a couple of weeks from now. We’re waiting for the pizza guys to come in from Naples, and then we’ll start their training. And my parents will be here for the opening and stay a few months to help out. It’s definitely a family business. I’ll actually have a projector showing images of my grandmother cooking at home in Naples. And soccer games, of course.
Where’s the best Neapolitan pizza you’ve had in the United States?
You’re not going to believe me when I tell you, but Minnesota— Punch Neapolitan Pizza in Minneapolis. I go there about once a year because my wife’s family is from Minnesota. I was surprised to run across this pizza place there that makes the best pizza in America.
What do you like to eat when you’re not eating pizza?
I probably eat three or four pizzas a day, just from spending all day here, testing the dough and recipes. I love a good burger. My favorite is probably at The General Muir. I also love Yeah! Burger and JCT Kitchen also makes a really good burger.
What’s next for Varuni Napoli? Would you rule out another location?
I’m not going to lie to you. We’re going to open this one, and I’m very proud of it, and I’d be very blessed if it goes well, and we can open another one. So, I won’t say no.