There’s a very human part of wanting to give back as you become successful. Why not give back to the industry that is making your company successful?

Francesco Marra, Marra ForniFrancesco Marra, Marra Forni

That is the essence of Pizza University & Culinary Arts Center: a way to give back and help others successfully reach their goals, in this case, working in the pizza-making field. It’s also a way to take the initiative when it comes to bridging the gap with labor issues, which we all complain about.

The need became obvious to me and my partner, Enzo Marra, about five years ago. I started writing notes about ideas for Pizza University after hearing stories about people that were taking their family money or using their 401K money to invest in a restaurant and had to close it a couple of years later.

I didn’t want people to go through that pain. It was also clear to me there was a lack of trained pizza makers in the United States.

With 70,000 pizzerias in the U.S., the market continues to be a large one, yet with very few pizza schools. Globally, there are many pizza schools. Even in U.S. culinary schools, I believe pizza could get more respect.

Students attending a Pizza University session learn authentic pizza making techniques and how the traditions behind those steps lead to a perfect pizza. We teach classes for many different styles, from the Neapolitan style, Neo-Neapolitan, New York style, Californian, Grandmother, Detroit style and many more.

The mission is to create a new generation of pizza makers to fulfill the needs and deficiency of the industry. And we are now looking to expand that beyond Maryland to other states.

Our goal is to grow using the test kitchens we have access to nationwide, currently about 16. To reach the next level, we will recruit passionate contributors, including food and manufacturing partners — anyone that believes in our mission. We would like to thank all the partners that have believed in us, and that have contributed to expanding our reach.

With unemployment at 3.6 percent and the minimum wage rising, everyone in the foodservice industry needs to work on a long-term plan to recruit and retain new employees, that includes energizing and inspiring new generations. If we don’t do this, our industry will have even fewer labor resources available to it.

We’ll also continue to work with military veterans, offering them the chance to learn new skills and a new trade, as well as young adults who have made a mistake in the past and want to reintegrate into society. Our program offers hands-on learning. We live in a world today where you can learn everything through online classes yet it takes kinesthetic skills to learn to make a good pizza; you have to touch the dough, feel it.

People go to school for many years to make pastries or bread, but for some reason they want to become good at pizza making overnight. That’s not possible. To become a great pizza maker, one must have passion, quality ingredients, the right technique, a lot of practice … and the right equipment.

One hundred people graduated from the program last year. We want to inspire even more and draw them into our industry. Together, we can create a system that can improve the wellness of both the fast-growing restaurant industry and the rich world of diverse cuisine which so deeply fuels all of our passion for cooking.