When Matteo Cattaneo, whose family is from Umbria, opened Buona Forchetta in South Park last year, lines were quick to form for a taste of the burnished pizzas emerging from their gold-tiled, wood fired oven, named Sofia after Cattaneo's daughter. Since then, the restaurant has gone from a neighborhood favorite to a local eatery getting attention in the larger food world, from Eater National to Food & Wine magazine. In this special Pizza Week 2014 edition of Eater's One Year In feature, Cattaneo reflects on Buona Forchetta's first year of buisiness, shares their recipe for success and hints at a possible expansion.
How did Buona Forchetta come about?
I came in 2006 to study and I was only supposed to be here three months; I was a lawyer in Italy. I started working in a restaurant here and fell in love with this scene and people. My family started a famous olive oil producer in Italy and there has always been a passion for cooking but nobody ever followed this passion. Now, I'm very happy that I realized this passion. We found the perfect spot; we live one block from here. We are so happy to be in South Park, it is a huge part of our success. This neighborhood is something that you don't find everywhere in San Diego.
What were you hoping to create?
We wanted something for families. We thought at the beginning we would do something more upscale but decided we prefer to keep it simple. Every night there are lines, we are very happy. A lot of people ask us why we don't open another one but we love this neighborhood and we want our history to be related to South Park.
Why do you think you've become so popular?
It's really simple. We believe that you don't need to hide the flavor of fresh ingredients; you gotta know how to cook them and respect what you're cooking. All our ingredients are really top-notch and we think that people see that there is a difference. They want something better and they are more conscious of what they eat and they understand that you don't have to compromise. We believe in a seasonal menu; we've already changed the menu four times since we've been open.
What is particularly special about the pizza?
When we opened, there weren't a lot of real Italian pizzerias. I was in love with Pizzeria Bruno, but still something was missing. Not on the quality, because it was a very good and I respect their work a lot; I think they did a lot for San Diego. We wanted to something more cozy, more family; everybody comes here for the food but also the ambiance.
We could save a lot on ingredients but we believe in quality and we are continually testing new products. We try new kinds of flour to adapt better to the weather in San Diego; every day it's a different challenge with the water, the yeast, the flour. I believe that you cannot become a pizziaolo overnight; it's something that runs in your family. It's pure passion. At the beginning we were good, but now I think we are much better than we started.
You know when San Diego was named number one for pizza and everyone was laughing? I got a little upset. There are people like us that are really working hard. For us, we are taking the step to bring in very good chefs from Italy; Marcello is a five-time World Pizza Champion, three times for gluten-free and twice for traditional. And now, both Carmine and Marcello have been invited to Vegas for the World Championship at the end of March. We will go and bring more attention to this part of the country.
Pizzeria Bruno helped introduce San Diego to Neapolitan-style pizza. Did you have to do some pizza education here with your diners?
We are really focusing on real Neapolitan pizza. We know that not everybody likes it but don't want to compromise, there are a lot of other places with different kinds of pizza. I'm not saying that Neapolitan is the best pizza, but we want to do one thing, do it good and get better every day.
Looking back on the year, is there anything you would have done differently?
Honestly no, I'm really happy. We didn't expect so much success. At the beginning we thought we would do 40 people a night, now every month we see 7,000 people. That's a lot for a place this small.
What advice would you give to a new restaurateur?
Don't compromise. Before I opened this restaurant, people were telling me that it wasn't going to work, that I should do things more American-style. But why? When you go to Italy, you love the food, so why wouldn't you love it here? If you want to eat spaghetti and meatballs and fettucine alfredo, there are a lot of places to find them. If you want something different, come here.
What's the state of Italian food in San Diego?
I think it's really improved. We started seeing big changes when Bencotto opened in Little Italy. There is a new generation of Italian restaurants and I think more are coming.
We really try to bring more attention to San Diego because we believe in a different kind of food scene. And we are seeing San Diego now make big, big progress not just for Italian cuisine but for all kind of cuisine. There is more focus on the quality.
Are you doing anything new here?
A big part of our menu is now gluten-free, that's why we brought Marcello from Italy. People don't believe it, because it tastes like real pizza. We want to be the place to go if you want gluten-free pizza and pasta.
Do gluten-free pizzas exist in Italy?
Yes, a lot. Here it's more of a diet trend but in Italy we have more people that have real allergies. So it's even more serious. Here we ask if people are really celiac because we would have to make the pizza in a different room.
So what's next, would you consider opening in another neighborhood?
We're planning on something but we have only been open here one year and we are dealing with all the success. It's been overwhelming and we are trying to keep up. Right now, we still have to focus on this location, but we are looking for something more north.
· Buona Forchetta [Official Site]