Mumbai residents Ankith Suresh and Priyanka Mandal quit their respective jobs to launch The Mad Pepperoni, a rustic pizzeria that offers authentic woodfired Neapolitan pizza from Italy.
The story goes that in 1889, a baker by the name of Raffaele Esposito visited the quaint town of Naples, Italy, and wanted to pay tribute to the royals and the recent unification of the region.
So he decided to craft a pizza for King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy in the colours of the Italian flag — tomatoes for red, mozzarella for white, and basil leaves for green.
Centuries later, this UNESCO-certified dish is arguably among the most coveted varieties of pizza, “as soft and floppy as a basset hound’s ears” and as delicious as it is intricate to make.
And it was this history that Ankith Suresh, a chef from Navi Mumbai, found himself fascinated with when he was working at a 5-star hotel during the 2020 COVID lockdown.
Having spent a major part of his life in the food industry, Ankith was no novice to cooking, but had never tried his hand at pizzas. “The art of making pizzas and getting creative fascinated me. And more so when I watched the videos of the Neapolitan pizza being made. I realised that the pizza culture in India is very different from the one that exists abroad,” he says.
This realisation was followed with a thought — “What if we were to create these Neapolitan pizzas in Mumbai?”
In March 2021, Ankith decided to find out for himself. He launched Mad Pepperoni with his friend Priyanka Mandal to serve authentic Neapolitan pizzas, leaving behind his job to do so. Today, the venture earns an average turnover of Rs 24 lakh annually, he notes.
A slice of old Italy
When Ankith first read about the pizzas, he decided to try and recreate a simpler version himself. When he shared it with his friends, the response was unanimous — “You should start your own pizza venture!”
Priyanka, working in the hotel industry at the time, was so taken up with the taste that she asked Ankith if they could start a pizza place of their own. The duo began scouting rental places and shops looking to set up their pizza hangout.
“To make an authentic Neapolitan-style pizza, you need a woodfired oven, as temperatures soar to as high as 400 degrees Celsius. We needed to keep this in mind as we were checking out spaces,” Ankith explains.
Once they finalised the place, they began working on designing the place themselves, aiming for a “rustic” set up with a live kitchen, so hungry customers could witness the magic themselves. “We did not want a traditional restaurant set up where the hosts are in a separate space from the diners. We wanted to create a ‘hangout’, where we could chat with our guests as they were awaiting their orders, and where they’d be able to watch the pizza being made,” says Ankith.
He also recalls that when they tried to make the pizza for the first time, it was a disaster.
“It was nothing like we’d seen in the pictures. The pizza was flat, the flour wasn’t right…We were stressed because we’d left our jobs, did not have a source of income, and had invested all our savings into this venture. The dream wasn’t anything close to what we had imagined. So we spent the next five months working on our mistakes, watching detailed videos, researching articles that spoke about this style of pizza, and finally, were able to get things right.”
Elaborating on the most obvious challenge, Ankith says it was “the lack of Italian flour”. “Importing was working out to be expensive and the protein content of Indian flour is less.”
“We hired a vendor to find the right wheat and get a ratio that would suffice for the pizza. We then worked on the look of the pizza, as the edges of a Neapolitan-style pizza should be puffy,” says Ankith. “Through these months, I understood pizza making on a scientific level.”
Needless to say, success was inevitable, and today, the duo serve around 50 orders everyday.
Priyanka says, “Once we took the step to enter this space, every challenge became fun. The appreciation we receive from our customers is overwhelming, a feeling you’ll seldom get at a regular job.”
Here’s where you can grab your slice of Italy.