Pietro’s Pizza Kauai becomes first in state to be certified by Verace Pizza Napoletana

T he certificate stating Pietro’s Pizza Kauai is a member of the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association is just that, a piece of paper, said Peppe Miele.

Which might be a strange description, since Miele is VPN’s president of Canada and U.S. operations.

But he explained. A piece of paper doesn’t make pizza. It doesn’t make friends.

“This guy right here,” Miele said, turning to Tom Iannucci and tapping his shoulder. “He does.”

Pietro’s Pizza Kauai is VPN’s 633rd member worldwide, one of about 100 in the U.S. and the first in Hawaii.

Those members have something in common, Miele said. Yes, they went through extensive training and purchased the necessary equipment, including a wood-fired brick oven, and ingredients. They practiced and learned how to make a consistent product to VPN standards.

“We want to preserve the tradition and the heart and the culture of our product,” Miele said.

But there’s more, he added. The intangibles, something you can’t teach.

“Like Thomaso, they have a strong will and passion and commitment,” Miele said in his Italian accent.

“I’m very proud to have a new friend,” he added. “The right guy is representing us.”

The crowd of about 40 people applauded and cheered as Iannucci smiled during a spirited celebration Saturday night at Pietro’s Pizza Kauai, which opened last year at Harbor Mall in Lihue.

“We’re really blessed,” Iannucci said.

The party with friends and family was to honor the restaurant’s VPN recognition.

Iannucci, who referred to himself as an Italian boy from New York, moved to Kauai 30 years ago. He served in the Marines and was a police commissioner on Kauai.

His wife, D’Lissa, is from Kauai. They raised three children here and Tom still leads Breath of Life ministries in Lihue.

Pizza has been a longtime love of Iannucci’s and opening his own restaurant was a goal.

He went to Naples, Italy, considered the birthplace of pizza, for four weeks to study and practice the craft of traditional Neapolitan brick oven pizza. He has a brick oven in the driveway of his Eleele home.

Thanks to the support of investors Dave and Sue Erickson, his family and church congregation, a vision was fulfilled.

“This is a chance to introduce the island to something of my culture, my Italian culture, and something I really enjoy and love,” he said.

Since opening Pietro’s, business has been better than Iannucci expected. Locals are getting turned on to Neopolitan pizza, which essential goes on the theory that less is more — a little cheese, a little sauce, a little basil — so you can taste everything.

Neapolitan pizza, Iannucci said, is an art. It’s all about quality, freshness, taste and attention to detail. Start to finish, it’s a precise process.

The wood-fired brick oven, handmade in Italy, cooks pizzas at 850 to 1,000 degrees in about 90 seconds. There’s no leaving in the oven and walking away. It must be watched. Timing is everything to achieve the right freshness and flavor. Fifteen seconds too long, that pizza is toast.

Iannucci said he was curious as to how it would be received, “because nobody has been doing it.”

Would local families embrace it?

Their goal was to create a pizzeria so that when tourists ask, “Where do the locals eat pizza?” the answer is, “Pietro’s.”

Such has turned out to be the case.

Iannucci said pizza brings people together. He considers those who visit Pietro’s part of an extended family. The name Pietro, by the way, is after Iannucci’s grandfather, his father and his brother.

“When something is from your heart, you hope people will like it,” Iannucci said. “It’s been better than I could hope for.”

Councilman Mel Rapozo praised Iannucci and his family,.

“We really appreciate what they’ve done for this community,” he said.

Pietro’s employs 30 and is a family business. Tom’s wife and grown children Thomas and Dondi work there.

Tom, a talkative sort described by some as “strong willed,” loves making the rounds to chat with customers to see how they liked their visit and their food.

It’s a bit of a throwback to olden times of when a restaurant owner actually mingled with customers nightly.

“I’m giving them something of quality and culture, and they’re happy,” he said. “That’s like the best reward.”

He considers the pizzeria an extension of his ministry and work as pastor at Breath of Life. He is proud of being known as the pizza pastor.

“Everything plays hand in hand for a reason,” he said. “The Lord is the wind in the sail of everything.”

Miele said Iannucci is doing an excellent job. People are recognizing and respecting Iannucci’s dedication to and love for his craft.

“I’m so proud of him and I’m so happy this island is so embracing Thomaso and his product,” Miele said.

He liked what he saw and what he felt at Pietro’s Pizza Kauai during Saturday’s party.

“This place is special,” Miele said. “I’m going to leave tomorrow and my heart is going to be nice and fat.”

WAIMEA — A week after its digital film projector crashed, the only theater in Waimea expects to reopen today.

“We’re here to service the Westside community and I know it’s a definite fixture. I’ve had a 100-plus phone calls asking me what is wrong,” said Thomas Nizo, general manager for Waimea Theater. “We want everyone to know that we’re working diligently in getting back up.”

For the past few days, Waimea Theater officials attempted to change and update the projector’s firmware and was able to isolate the the part that caused the crash.

Nizo said an order to replace the part was made Tuesday. The prices for the part range from $1,800 to $4,000, he said.

“On Thursday, we have a special event at Kekaha School, so we do have a secondary projector,” Nizo said. “We can’t play Hollywood movies, but we can play DVDs and Blu Rays to support Kekaha School on Thursday.”

With six employees, Waimea Theater opened in 1998 and is home of the Waimea Film Festival’s Hawaii International Film Festival Hana Hou event.

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