Regular competitor at the World Pizza Games in Las Vegas, NV, (as well as the Campionato Mondiale Della Pizza in Parma, Italy), Scott Volpe put Tucson on the map as this years World Champion. But aside from bringing home the gold medal, you may have seen his Fiamme Pizza food truck set up outside Tap & Bottle or have heard about his recent storefront opening in North Tucson, AZ.
Fiamme Pizza Founder, restaurant owner, b-boy, pizza acrobat and aficionado, Scott Volpe shares his journey with us from the moment he set his eyes on thrown dough to creating his own business to now setting more time aside for breakdancing.
So you own a business, you’re a b-boy and a pizza acrobat. Which one came first?
Pizza acrobatics came first.
I had thought b-boying came first because it almost seemed like a segway that led you to pizza acrobatics.
It was probably both. I was always trying to learn how to do the b-boy thing and then I started working in pizza shops and that’s how I started doing the acrobatics. So then after a while I put them together into one.
What attracted you to pizza acrobatics?
It’s a little strange, most people don’t know about it. I used to play basketball and when I started working in pizza shops and saw them throwing dough, doing tricks with it, I was like, “Oh! I want to learn how to do that too. That’s pretty cool.” Then once I found out about the competitions, that’s when I really started incorporating the breakdancing into it. Instead of throwing basketballs, I just throw pizzas now.
Was your desire to get better at pizza acrobatics your inspiration to do breakdancing so you can incorporate something different?
Yeah. That was the main part. Once I started really learning how to breakdance then I fell in love with it and now they go hand in hand. I spend more time breakdancing now than I do acrobatics.
But you recently won a world championship for that?
Yeah, I’ve been competing for about five years now. Last year I got second place and this year I won first. It’s pretty tough. People all over the world eat pizza, so people all over the world spin pizza too. It’s a pretty tough competition. I worked hard to win, so I’m pretty happy about it.
Can you tell me more about the competition?
A lot of people go every year. It’s called Pizza Expo and it takes place every March in Las Vegas. People come from all over the world. A lot of people in the Asian countries are big about it, like people from Japan, China and Korea. You go there and it’s all about the love and passion for pizza but we can’t communicate because we don’t speak the same language. It is just like b-boying, you go into battle and basically battle against each other with pizza. Who can do the best tricks without dropping it? Who can keep it going for the longest? That’s what they judge us on. Then, me doing the breakdancing sets me apart from the rest of them. Some of them can’t do quite all of the same moves. Everybody kind of has a breakdancing flare but I try pushing it to the next level and really do things that maybe others haven’t thought of or might not be able to do. That’s what separates me. It is a tough competition because some of the people that I compete against, pizza acrobatics is all they do. For example, there’s a big corporation called Mr. Pizza and they have a big team of acrobatics. Whereas myself, I’m just on the street making pizza and practicing when I can. It took me four/five years just to make it to the finals against all these guys.
Has becoming the world champion changed your life?
Yeah! A lot actually. It helps my business a lot from all the media attention and publicity. When people see that it makes them want to come in and try the pizza. They wonder if I can do that how the pizza tastes or they hope I’m not handling their pizza because my hands have touched the ground! (laughs) But that’s only for the entertainment! When I’m making pizzas here at the shop I don’t always do all the tricks like that.
So when did you start making pizza and throwing dough?
I started making pizza and pizza acrobatics at the same time. I’ve been making pizza’s for almost six years now. I’ve always worked in kitchens, that’s kind of how it started. I’ve been a dishwasher, prep cook, line cook, fryer, griller… anything you can name I’ve pretty much done it before. I finally started making pizza one day and I didn’t really know right away that that’s what I wanted to do. After six months to a year, I realized that I wanted to pursue making pizza and make it my living. That’s when I decided I wanted to start the truck. Nobody at the time was doing that here in Tucson. I did it initially in LA (where I learned to make pizza) with some guys who had trucks and I had to come back home to start this. It worked really well and now we have a store.
How was your transition from working for someone else to creating your own business?
It was good and bad. Most people would say they want to work for themselves because you don’t have a boss but it’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of responsibility. You can’t just take days off. It’s a 24/7 type of thing. I’m here everyday, all the time. Making pizza is really my life. I come here and work all day. Then I’ll go to the gym, practice breakdancing, and practice my pizza acrobatics. I try to make it out to events and battles when I can, like the Tucson Hip Hop Festival, but it’s tough sometimes since I have this business.
What’s something about having a food truck that took you off guard?
I knew it was going to be a lot of work because I was already working in the restaurant industry. What I didn’t know was about all the permits, regulations, and fees that go into having a food truck. In my head I thought I’d just start making pizzas like the Sonoran hot dog carts but there’s so much that you have to deal with beforehand. I’ve been doing it for a while now, so I have a good understanding of it.
How’s having the restaurant different from the food truck?
It’s even more on my plate. You have to get people to help you, have employees and even more permits. There’s more responsibility because it’s open everyday. We’ve only been open four months, so I’m learning how to deal with everybody and make everything run smoothly. It’s been a little bit of a rough transition but it’s starting to smooth out.
What advice would you give someone who wants to open up their own restaurant?
Think everything through before you do it. Don’t just jump into it. Have a business plan, know everything from the inside out - like what kind of electricity you want, why your restaurant is designed the way it is, how many people can be seated, how are you going to turnover the tables... Are you going to focus on to-go, dine-in or delivery? There’s so much that goes into it. My biggest advice would be to have a solid business plan. Make sure you know about all the regulations and permits from the health department and the city.
Did you create your own recipes?
The menu and all the recipes, I created. I gathered them all from my mentors, people I used to work for, and I also studied all over the place. I studied in Naples, Italy, New York, LA, San Francisco… just tried to soak in as much knowledge as I could. I put everything I learned all into one. All the pizzas are unique to this restaurant. I spent about five months going all over the place to study the craft and the different cultures.
What was your favorite travel destination?
Naples, Italy! I went there to learn the culture. That’s where my grandparents came from and there’s a style of pizza that we make - pizza napoletana. It’s a place I really wanted to visit. The way pizza is over there is very different compared to how it is here. I wanted to go there and see how it’s done first hand. It’s also a very beautiful and interesting city.
Let’s get into b-boying now. Tell me more about how that!
Not until about a year and a half ago did I really start getting into it. Before I felt like I wasn’t really a b-boy, I wouldn’t consider myself one, but now I have enough moves up under me where I can go in a cypher and battle somebody. Tucson is what really got me into it more. Seeing all the b-boys and how they are so passionate about it. They really work hard. Just watching them was the best way to learn. How they all come together, it’s like a secret society. It’s really cool. People take me under their wing and have me try different moves. That really helped me get into the next level.
How would you describe the b-boy culture here in Tucson?
It’s awesome. It’s pretty underground too and everyone keeps it that way. You have to go to certain b-boy meet ups and once you get to know everyone you start hearing about practices and events. Once I started getting pretty good at it, that’s when everyone would start inviting me. Lucas is really the one that sparked me and introduced me to it. I didn’t know too much. I’d just practice on my own. The culture in Tucson is just really underground.