In an effort to get to know our neighbors and introduce our members to the local businesses around us, we periodically conduct interviews with business owners in our community. We recently sat down with Napizza owner Guilia Colmignoli, to learn more about their unique approach to pizza, and their commitment to their staff, and the community as a whole. Read on to learn more and check them out online as well!
Napizza began its life in 2011 over a glass of wine and a ping pong game between three Italian raised friends. The fast-casual restaurant, with its fourth location in downtown Encinitas, is a welcome addition to the North County dining scene, and a favorite among locals. They pride themselves on providing locally sourced, nutritionally delicious food by partnering with local farmers. Their pizza is anything but conventional, with a unique Roman style 72 hour rise, and salads made from scratch. Their passion for every aspect of their business is palpable and we admire the passion they have and their seemingly endless amounts of energy.
I’m the owner – my husband Christopher and I are owners and partners in the business. I mostly do graphic design, menu design, branding. I also work on staff upkeep and planning “Live Culture” events, where we take our staff out on hikes or yoga retreats. Chris deals with more of the boring stuff like insurance LOL. We opened in 2012 and now have four locations—Encinitas, Little Italy, UTC, 4S Ranch—plus Maestoso in Hillcrest, which is a more upscale contemporary Italian dining concept. The first one we opened was in Little Italy and was run only by me and Christopher with neither of us having ever worked in or owned a restaurant before.
I had been working at Merrill Lynch when the recession hit and my visa didn’t get renewed. So having to quit that job, I was at home hanging out, cooking and making pizzas and other things when Chris said, “Why don’t you open a restaurant in San Diego and just have fun like you are doing at home?” I remember having to convince the landlord to rent to us, as there were a thousand pizza places on the same street. I don’t know how we convinced them, but from the beginning, we had a line out the door, which we didn’t expect.
When we started it was the beginning of when “fast-casual” was starting to go in a more healthy direction, but it wasn’t as big as it is now. Little Italy had a lot of pizza joints but they were by-the-slice, greasy, with no salads. My thought was, growing up in Italy, a lot of people are super healthy and skinny and they all eat pizza, it’s so nice, so why don’t we bring that here? That’s why we import our dough from a family-owned mill in Rome and use a 72-hour levitating process. This allows the dough to be 80% water, so it’s super light and airy, unlike other pizza doughs, which also makes it healthier and easier to digest.
Basically, yeast works like a living organism and it feeds on sugar to duplicate and grow. When you add sugar and water, the yeast wakes up and starts feeding and growing. Most pizza places here use a 10-12 hour rise to speed up the pizza making process, which means there is a lot of yeast in the dough, and then more added sugar to compensate for all the yeast. But the problem with that is that when you cook the pizza, the yeast has not yet reached its full capacity, meaning it’s still alive. So when you eat it, you are eating live yeast and when you drink something sugary, like soda or beer, the yeast in your belly starts to react (i.e. feed and grow), and therefore you have a harder time digesting it.
We don’t use any preservatives, animal fats, and everything is natural. So after 24 hours, the yeast has stopped growing and we move it around to wake it up, eat more sugar and create more rise. We do that until all the yeast reaches its capabilities and then when we cook it, the yeast dies. So when you eat it, there is no live yeast in your stomach.
When I was first learning about all of this, it was so fun. I took a class in San Francisco with an award-winning pizza guy to learn the American market and then completed a course in Italy. We now do classes with kids where they make their own dough, add sugar, then take it home to see how it works. They think it’s so cool!
I attach myself a lot to the staff, which is good and bad at times. I struggle sometimes with the managing. If the staff is struggling, I always have to try to find a way to support them, it’s my nature to want to help. I remember one time we hired a big corporate guy to come in and help us grow and all our managers were crying about this and that and complaining. And I had a moment where I was just like: STOP! I don’t like where this is going. Are we really concerned about someone being five minutes late? What about all the other things? Why are we trusting some random stranger to come in and tell us how to run our business and not listening to the employee we’ve worked with for months? There must be a way for us to find a way to grow by creating relationships with our staff and having more connection with our staff… What’s going on with our staff? Who’s having a kid? Cool, let’s find a way to get paternity leave. Let’s focus on things like that instead of someone being five minutes late.
Chris and I spent a lot of time brainstorming ways to get our employees to a better spot in their own lives. We started doing different events, like one or two camping trips a year to Big Bear so we could get to know them and get them out in nature since that’s such a love of ours. So that was a big drive for me because then I started having relationships and seeing these employees grow and experience different things, so that was motivating and rewarding.
The community, we’ve had a great experience with the community so far. We get a lot of catering and deliveries here, which surprised us.
We might be getting into doing Pizza Friday’s with some of the Montessori schools. We also make everything from scratch, our salad dressing and sauces, they are all made from local, fresh ingredients, so growing that aspect of the business is always challenging and exciting. We also do composting and recycling.
We were the first pizza place in San Diego to implement the composting program onsite. It has to be done in back of house, as the city of San Diego still does not have the machinery to compost products such as “compostable” straws like LA and SF do, so we can only compost food scraps at this time.
We also donate all our untouched leftover food, at the end of the night, to the food bank in San Diego to feed the homeless. We wrap up our extra slices and they pick them up in the morning. Chris says, as a family, it can be hard to do things, but once you have a business, you can do so much more for others and groups. So we try to give back where we can.
It’s a big part of our screening when we hire as well. A lot of our events are natural events, like hiking, beach cleans, etc. We find it important to show our employees, especially our younger employees, that it’s important to take care of nature.
No, it’s definitely been a learning curve—I never thought I would own a restaurant. I studied international politics and journalism at the University of London. Then I did Grad school at UCSD for marketing and finance and that’s how I got the job with Merrill Lynch. But I didn’t really enjoy it.
I love being in the kitchen, trying new things, new products, working with the staff—it’s dynamic and fun, like working on the murals and menus, that stuff I love!
For me, a big part was research and intuition, and I’d say staying true to your roots even if it takes sacrifice. Don’t give up quality because we’ve had various times when investors or people would come in and they would tell us to change our flour, “Why are you doing these “Live Culture” events, they are so expensive,” they would say. I feel like if we would have given that up, then we wouldn’t be where we are today. I think it’s important to value the people who are making your bread! You have to believe in what you are doing and enjoy it.
Also be ready to put in the time. Before we had kids we were here maybe 14 hours a day and we loved it, it was so much fun it never felt like work. Also, to remember that whenever there is a challenge, there is an opportunity within that challenge. We’ve come up with lots of solutions over a glass of wine and a game of ping-pong! Our entire menu was built over a game of ping-pong and some wine.
Beach, yoga… We have a little Westfalia camper we like to take the family out in—we fit five in there, but I’m not sure how. We use our Westi a lot, Chris surfs a lot—spending time at the beach and in nature. That’s why we try to be so green; because we appreciate the earth so much, we want to give back.
The next few questions are a series of rapid fire, don’t-think-too-much, one-word responses to see how people think on their feet. They usually provide some pretty interesting insight!
Innovative. I’m somebody who likes to think ahead and think outside of the box. I never do the things I’m supposed to be doing.
Being forgotten generations from now.
Somebody that follows all the rules.
Asian foods, like Pho soup. Oops, should I say pizza?
This one! When I take a week off, Chris says, “You’re miserable, go back to work!” I can’t help it—It’s the best job!
Do you work for, or own a business in Solana Beach, Leucadia, or Carlsbad? Contact us to set up your own interview and feature!