The “New Member” Process isn’t THAT Bad – Mike Pitera, Pizza a Modo Mio

With a new era dawning on the US Pizza Team, recruitment has opened back up and with that comes the beta testers. Well, not really testers, but the unlucky individuals that have to deal with all the bugs before they get fixed.The newest U.S. Pizza Team member Mike Pitera of Pizza a Modo Mio is here to let everyone know, it’s not that bad.

Mike Pitera on Local News Affiliate

Brian Hernandez: How did you get into pizza?

Mike Pitera: I’ve been making pizza since I was 15. I started making pizza in New York at my friend’s family’s pizzeria “Our Little Italy”. I started in the back like most people, but just fell in love with the culture and the entire industry. From there I started graduating upwards, Dishes, then prep chef, back of house type stuff. Then I finally got my license and wanted to become a delivery driver. I learned by watching the old guys behind the bench flipping dough. I loved the familiar atmosphere in the restaurant. Seeing all the regulars come in and knowing them by name. I loved everyone always wanting to know the pizza guy. I did that for most of my childhood up through high school, and even into college. I would always come back to pizza when I would come home for breaks. Then I decided to go to culinary school and tried the chef path for a while. I soon found out I didn’t want that, so I changed my career. From that point On I just made pizza as a hobby. I would make it at home or for friends. I even had friends that owned pizzerias and I would cover shifts for them sometimes, so I never really left it completely. About 3 years ago I moved down to Charleston to be a salesman. But when I got here, I discovered it lacked a super diverse pizza scene (at the time). So, my dad and I built out a pizza trailer, and I would drive around different neighborhoods on the weekends selling pizzas. 2 years ago, I quit my day job and bought a brick and mortar. Followed it with a second location about a year in.

 

BH: What was missing from the pizza scene?

Mike Pitera: Charleston is one of the fastest growing cities in the country right now and most of the people are transplants. A lot of transplants, like me are from New York, and when they move here they know what they want.  Good pizza, good bagels. That’s the position I was in. The pizza here wasn’t the traditional style of pizza. It was more the fine dining restaurant, Neapolitan style pies. There was nowhere you could just go, grab a slice on a paper plate and get out, in traditional New York fashion. That helped me. That’s all I knew how to do. That’s all I wanted and there just happened to be a need for it.

BH: What type of pizza does Pizza a Modo Mio offer?

Mike Pitera: When you come in you can always get New York Style, a Sicilian or Grandma style, Tavern style or even a gluten-free personal crust. We also offer some basics like garlic knots and strombolis. We do want to get into Detroit style, but we need to expand first. We would need room for all the pans, and storage in the walk-in and things like that. They are doing that at our West Ashley location and doing very well with it, but we would need more space at this first location. I even made a custom style of pizza for a customer. She was from Ohio and came in with a picture of her favorite childhood pizza and said, “Can you make this?”. It was very close to our Grandma style, so I made her a pizza with the specialized toppings. That was really the only difference, just certain toppings, but once I did, forget about it. She was on every Facebook group chat and social media she could find singing our praises for making her favorite pizza from Ohio. She was mainly looking for that fluffy consistency with that crunchy bottom.

BH: We have a new set of guidelines for membership on the US Pizza Team. What it takes to get on, stay on and move upwards. It is very much based on a point system dealing with how active you are in the industry and your local market. The beautiful part of this new change is it was very much driven and wanted by the members, so it wasn’t a hard sell. Tell us a little about what you did to earn points for membership and your experience as the first one to go through the process.

Mike Pitera: I think it’s a great idea to use a point system for membership. You want to have value for the team with members that have experience and passion for the industry and the team. We’ve only been around for a year and a half, but some of the things I submitted in the application were things like local competitions we have competed and won in. We also competed in the Galbani Professionale Pizza Cup in 2023, in the largest dough stretch, fastest pie maker and fastest box folder, as well as the culinary side of it. I tried to be as involved in the event and the show as I could. I also did some demos for some of the local vendors at the Pizza Tomorrow Summit and just tried to educate the people walking around as to what pizza is actually all about. After that I competed in the pizza competitions in Atlantic City and The Pizza Expo. I did all the athletic events there, except freestyle, but I was excited about the Best Cheese category. I figured, that’s what we are. A New York pizzeria, cheese house, pizza experience. When you walk into any new pizzeria you always want to get the plain cheese pizza. It is the best way to judge any pizzeria. Surprisingly I got 6th in that. That was my first major event in Vegas, so I was very proud. Between coordinating your ingredients and your dough, prepping everything, then all the people in the stands and cameras on you all the time, it was a great experience and I loved it.

BH: Competitions aside, how important is local outreach for you and how much was on your application list?

Mike Pitera: Doing things for your local community, really touching people and being a role model, that’s something I really focus on and cherish. I work with a lot of charitable foundations and do tons of local outreach. For example, if there is a family in need, we will help out with charity drives for them. Toy drives and food drives and such. We do a lot of give back for the schools, where we give the schools the money for the pizzas sold. We try to really invest ourselves s in our local community and organizations so that we can give back and support all the people that are coming in and supporting us.

BH: Is this kind of outreach in the community something that should be bragged about, or done for the sake of doing it.

Mike Pitera: Both. I think you should showcase it, and not in a selfish way, but to help get more people in volved and spread the love. Theres so much negativity out there. People are quick to run and give those negative reviews, but they rarely run to share the good ones. There needs to be more of that, so I there should be a showcase of the food deeds. Represent it in the positive light of doing this for the neighborhood to get people to want to come and be involved as well. If you showcase it in a manner that is respectful and it’s positive, I think you should showcase it as much as you can. Hopefully people will see it and follow suit.

BH: How did you hear about the team?

Mike Pitera: My friend and GM of the West Ashley location Peter Carbonaro has been following the USPT and world of pizza competitions and was my introduction to it all. My first show was in Atlantic City, and I met you, Vito Recchia, Michael LaMarca, George Taylor, Rico Lunardi and more. When I was talking to these guys, the first thing I noticed was that they were all experiencing the same things I was, as far as competition worries and things like that, so we were able to relate right away. Then I found out what the team was all about and how they help each other. How they work on recipes together, work on things to better your business and competition performances. My mind was blown. When I saw the show, the competition, the people and how they help each other, I was like, wow, this is really cool. I’m used to being in New York, where if there is a pizza place down the block from you, you want them to fail. Here, it wasn’t like that. The camaraderie was awesome. I had never experienced anything like that in the local industry in certain areas. That’s where I got hooked on the team. Then came Orlando, then Vegas. It was a done deal in my mind by then. I had spoken with a few members that told me to stay on the path I was on, and it would get me there. Then you approached me, and we went from there. Luckily after we talked, it turned out just being me and doing what I had been doing was enough to get me on the team, so I didn’t have to go out of my way to “apply”.

BH: What were your thoughts when you first got the call.

Mike Pitera: I was excited. We talked about expectations for both me and the team. About what the team does for each other and what the concept of the team is and “What is the purpose of the USPT. After discussing all that, it was really humbling to be asked to join, mainly for just being me. The acknowledgement and being notice for that.

BH: That’s what we look for. People that don’t have to be molded to fit our standards, both with people and pizza. We like the people that are themselves without having to put on a public mask. It gives our group the very familial fell that sets us apart.

What are you excited about doing now that you’re on the team?

Mike Pitera: Continuing that camaraderie and really absorbing as much information from my team members as I can. I really want to develop a family here and get to know my teammates. For instance, I had only been in the team chat group for a day, but I asked a question about selling packaged pizzas and RC Gallegos jumped right in, gave me a call and just shared everything he does.  That type of interaction is great right there. If everyone just works together, that’s what makes a team. What makes a family, and that is how well grow and be recognized in the industry. I really want o be involved as much as I possibly can with everything the team does. Events, competitions, maybe hosting some charitable events for the team and things like tha.t There are things the team lacks in terms of recognition, and I think if we get a lot more involved in the public activities and things along that nature, I think the sky’s the limit. I really want to share some ideas with the team and be a part of bringing more light to the team and helping as much as I can.  

BH: Final thoughts to the industry?

Mike Pitera: Be kind to your staff. Be kind to your customers. Spread out good positivity and care about your product. I am super excited to be a part of the team and meet all the members. I can’t wait to grow with you guys and take over this industry.

 

Picture of Brian Hernandez

Brian Hernandez