By Bella Bloom March 20, 2017 Las Vegas Nevada
Individual components are always part of a larger whole. Two Yumms Up is comprised of five essentials:
- Archiving collaborative experiences.
- Keeping things adventurous.
- Utilizing food to prompt connections.
- Practicing a high regard for others.
- Introducing the community to itself.
A further goal of these essential components is to highlight what’s already going on in the world that emulates any or all—highlighting efforts by those who ALREADY GET IT. More specifically, Two Yumms Up strives to learn as much as possible–sharing what we discover.
CURIOSITY LEADS US
There can be no surprise we begin our food adventure with John Arena, regarding his longtime presence in the Las Vegas, Nevada community. His strive is unrelenting, his handcrafted pizza making–proactive and invested in passing the torch to the future. Most importantly, Arena makes it well known that his foundation derives from the collaboration with others.
A FEW OF THESE COLLABORATIONS:
- John Arena is the co-founder with his cousin Sam Facchini of Metro Pizza. They began their first pizzeria in 1980. Since then, there are currently six Metro Pizza locations and one Lulu’s Bread and Breakfast location (named after John’s mother, Lucy Arena). This year marks 37 years for Metro Pizza and 50 years since Arena began his pizza-crafting career.
- Arena teaches a culinary course at UNLV (FAB 366A) entitled the History and Culture of Pizza.
- In pursuit of exchanging pizza culture and collaborating ideas, Arena travels to Brazil, Canada, Naples, and throughout the United States. Some student pizza-makers have traveled far from their native countries, such as China, Japan, and Korea to study Arena’s techniques. In doing so, some have also advanced in becoming productive entrepreneurs themselves.
- On February 21, 2017 Metro Pizza presented Three Square with a charitable contribution raised on National Pizza Day—Slice Out Hunger “feeding 1500 homeless and hungry.”
- March 27–30, 2017 the International Pizza Expo, located at the Las Vegas Convention Center, includes demonstrations by Arena and companion experts, such as Peter Reinhart and Tony Gemignani.
- On April 9th, 2017 the Guinness World Record attempt for the longest pizza is happening! Top names in the pizza industry, such as Tony Gemignani, Giulio Adriani, Tom Lehmann, John Arena, Fred Mortati, Massimo Balacchi, and Jimmy DiSisto collaborate to make a 7000’ long pizza.
- Arena has also been collaborating with the Molino Caputo Flour of Naples Company to develop flour that “tastes Italian and has the texture of a crispier American pizza.”
- Metro Pizza employs approximately 200 people, while serving 20,000 customers a week.
All this being said, there’s much more and while these highlights are well above our heads regarding example after example of outstanding thrive, we are after something a bit more intricate. A latent imprint of the five components mentioned in the opening—is what we are after. We sit at the table with John “the Pizza Guy,” with our own set of plans of how the exchange will take place, but “What had happened was…” something completely different that lead us to a similar goal together because we are speaking the same language already. We knew we started in the right place.
WHAT DID WE GET?
We gathered more material to work with than we anticipated. To demonstrate how authentic John Arena presented himself, I can guesstimate that if we had nothing on our agenda to ask, the same two-hour conversation would have taken place nearly the same. Let’s follow some dialogue.
John, Can you think of the similarities I see between you and Bruce Lee?
J: Transcendence. Wisdom comes from old knowledge and progress comes from new knowledge.
Agreed. You are always giving your secrets away… have you ever gotten any backlash from others in your industry for giving out recipes, techniques, and business strategies to the rest of us?
J: You don’t experience backlash from people that are really good because they have confidence. If you’re getting any backlash from people, it’s from those who don’t know anything anyway and they are so fearful and afraid.
The secret magic recipe to making pizza dough is probably not that secret. There are no secrets anymore, but the concept of secrecy goes back to the Roman guilds. Thousands of years ago people protected their livelihoods by NOT sharing their techniques with anyone. THOSE DAYS ARE OVER.
This fear of revealing the recipe is based on the idea that all there is to cooking is a recipe… which is not really true because there is so much more going on… in terms of techniques—in terms of spirituality. That’s why two people can use the same recipe and get two completely different results.
Chris Decker, as you know, is like my son—the closest person I have ever cooked with. We can both make a pizza at the same time, with the same ingredients and they are different and excellent at the same time.
There’s this fear for others, that if ‘I give out my recipe, someone else is going to be able to replace what I do.’
‘They’ are never going to be able to replicate what I do, even if they are standing right next to me for the rest of their lives. It would be their thing—it wouldn’t be mine.
So the idea of fascist consistency every time is completely ridiculous. How could it be the same? You are not going to be the same after this interview and neither am I.
Moving forward with this concept, what do you think about food and culture? How do we encourage culture through food?
J: If we think about all the old pizzerias of the world, almost all were named after the guy making the pizzas. They were expressing themselves through the food. That’s the important part of this industry.
When I make a pizza, everything there is to know about me is there, when one stops to think about it.
When I travel, I want to eat pizza that expresses its background; the sociology and historical occurrences; the immigration pattern; the experiences of the guys behind the counter.
I happen to think that pizza tells a particularly compelling story. It tells a story about history, struggle, immigration, and economic hardship. It’s all there… on the plate… if we take the time to think about it.
That’s all I want people to do… just think about it. Food is an emotional experience.
If we consume without thinking about it—It’s like a crime to disregard what it takes to get food to our plates—To disregard the sacrifices it took to get to us.
Let’s think about the pizza Margherita… flour, water, yeast, salt, tomato, mozzarella di bufala, and basil. Mix all that together and we have 6,000 years of history on our plate. There’s religious conflict, exploration, colonization, wars… We have a food culture that goes back before the ancient Romans.
For 6,000 years all of these conditions had to be worked out just right in order to bring these specific ingredients to the farmers, pickers, processors, distributors, and the pizza-makers who hand-craft our products today.
In Italy, there is a geographical, historical, climate, and social construct that embraces new ideas.
It’s a natural progression that all food takes on the characteristics of its host environment.
For instance, having cheese that comes from specific cows–grazing at 3000’ altitude–with only 20 of them existing in the whole world… Some people get excited about that stuff!
So, sure the food is going to be great because those people are thinking about their food THAT much; they’re not consuming like sharks. So the culture has to be there, otherwise the meaning gets lost.
When we think about all of this… How much is all of this worth?
John Arena speaks with a tone of a thoroughbred historian. Each pause is not necessarily the end of a sentence, but a purposeful ellipsis to allow his outspoken rote memory to metabolize within the listener. Interrupting him would be counterproductive when our contribution here is only to encourage this impression of his natural expression to the mass community.
HERES WHAT ARENA SHARED NEXT
J: One day, I was speaking with one of our staff, native to Guatemala. This individual began as a dishwasher and grew into an incredible pizza-maker of ours. I asked him, ‘How long did it take you to get from Guatemala to the U.S.?’ And he said, “18 months.” And then I asked , ‘What did you do walk here!?’
He said, “Yes.”
He walked here…
He walked here from Guatemala…
So, if you’re eating that pizza and you’re not giving any thought to how it got to your plate, which that guy is definitely a component of… You’re dishonoring the food; you’re dishonoring the role of the person who made that food for you.
Download into your fiber everything we just connected with…
We just leveled up together.
THE LATENT IMPRINT
Admittedly, I overthink things… writers and creatives tend to be this way. I have often dissected how a food adventure turns into a misadventure—arguing staff behind the line… bussers slamming dishes on the opposite wall-side of diners… servers talking amongst each other as if the customer shouldn’t consume their primary focus… and never have I thought so much of how food can be and is most often the most magical expression of tangible energy that one can consume and be nourished from. To say this another way: It is quite possible many temperamental defaults are set to “What is so wrong with the world…” instead of “What is outstandingly so right with it.”
Those latent imprints I keep talking about are exactly these things—the impressions that stay with us. They can be negative or positive. John Arena is giving us a positive impression (an imprint) to activate as we move onward from this discussion. We’re still talking about food-right? Yes and no. We are and yet this concept can be replicated to every area of life. To slow down and consider the contributions of others, especially when things fall into place—this is the switch to flip. With regard to food, it’s so easy, after having a meal so bomb that we want to cry between every bite, to think THIS FOOD IS THE BEST. Yet, with it could very well be the interwoven combination of the harvest… the atmosphere… the temperaments encountered… the company we keep—the company we provide.
After our “Time Out” with John Arena to prompt an exchange of ideas regarding how to build a community through food culture, our family will be discussing more than which slice of crispy, bubbled up, extra cheesy, old-school pepperoni, jalapeno and pineapple pizza, we are going to claim first.
Besides what I have already shared, this is what sticks with me:
Four generations ago, John Arena’s Great Aunt and Uncle arrived in New York from Italy. They owned a produce market, which provided cooked items and “maybe some wine making during the prohibition.” Smiling emphasis mine.
Arena’s father began working at the closest bakery, along with his brothers. Arena’s father was six at the time. Six. I thought I had it rough at eleven, but in this family—They hit the ground running in Little Italy.
What does a six year old do for work? “A six year old works for a bakery scrubbing pans and floors and hauling coal,” Arena says. Mind you, Arena didn’t share his familial beginning as burdens; he shares them with a sense of this is what they did to live—by every necessary means available.
Before Arena began his working career, he started by first “choosing the right parents, in order to have nothing to complain about.” His father was “very precise, structured, and supportive with a firm hand.” He would encourage John to master his craft inside and out. His mother “…was like–everything you do is wonderful. Get your running shoes on and you’ll figure it out!”
With further regard to his parents, Arena continues, “You need both of those [parental] components to be able to have the entrepreneurial confidence. My cousin Sam, might say the same.”
From Left to right: John Arena Sr. & Lucy Arena (John’s Parents), Christine & John Arena
Our “Time Out” session with John, took us back 6,000 years ago. We learned about history and culture and of John catching a break until he became 11 years old. At that time, he began working for his family’s pizzeria, working opposite shifts of his father. The elder family members were bakers and pizza-makers and his cousin Sam has been stationed beside him this entire time. The fourth generation (John and Sam’s nieces and nephews) is excelling at culinary schools right now. It’s been 50 years, making John (not Sam) “137 years old!” John and Sam were born into this beautiful culture and they are still sharing it with the rest of us as homemade food. “Homemade” because the Bloom Tribe is absolutely home when we return to Metro. More accurately stated, Metro Pizza offers handcrafted artisan [Two Yumms Up] pizzas and creative etceteras.
While closing our conversation with Arena, we dropped our last thought prompt:
What do you think your super power is? His response left us no doubt…“Emersion.”
Emersion would be spot on as other creators worth visiting were mentioned:
Here are the extra mentionables we spoke of on and off throughout the entire interview:
Chris Decker, Metro Pizza of Las Vegas, Nevada
Franco Pepe, Pepe In Grani of Caiazzo, Naples
Chris Bianco, Pizzeria Bianco of Phoenix, Arizona
Tony Gemignani, Pizza Rock of Las Vegas, Nevada
John shared a great deal of excitement about Slice Out Hunger and how to get acquainted with Scott Weiner. Here’s the scoop:
Pizza Enthusiast, Scott Weiner is the founder of Slice Out Hunger and Scott’s Pizza Tours. Scott will be bringing his pizza tour to the Las Vegas area in connection to the International Pizza Expo March 28, 2017. The International Pizza Expo runs March 27-30th, 2017. And lastly, Scott’s Pizza Tours A Documentary will be released March 28th, 2017.
Our food adventure is headed to any of the directions John Arena highlighted. Food artisans are powerful creators. While food may bring people to the table, the fiber of connections orchestrate the value of collaborative efforts. John Arena utilizes his super power to the fullest by complimenting those around him–this sticks with people. When we purposely share our super powers in such a way, it lifts the entire community up into becoming a tribe. Thank you John Arena for sharing your family, your culture, your methods and business strategies, your high regard to others, and for your charitable outreach.