No. 900 Pizzeria Napolitaine grows
By Colleen CrossFeatures Business and Operations Staffing editor pick neapolitan pizza staffing
Quebec pizza chain finding staffing success and advancing its craft
When I meet Mirko D’Agata, he is wondering about his team’s results in the previous day’s International Pizza Challenge, he has just been called to compete in the new tandem competition and he and his team are getting set to open Morso, serving Roman-style in teglia pizza in the Limoilou neighbourhood of Quebec City early in April.
He has much on his mind and yet he gives me his full attention. The award-winning pizzaiolo is executive chef for No. 900 Pizzeria Napolitaine. He couldn’t be prouder to represent this growing pizza chain.
No. 900 was founded by Alexandre Brunet and is owned by Brunet and Dominic Bujold. Since opening its first location in 2014 – Bernard near the Outrement theatre in Montreal – No. 900 has grown to 29 locations in Montreal, Quebec City and throughout the province. They also have one thriving location in Lyons, France and are planning to open another in Paris. All locations offer dining in, delivery, takeout and catering.
They have on the menu 10 red sauce pizzas, six white sauce pizzas, appetizers, salads and a carefully chosen wine list that includes local wines.
D’Agata believes in sharing knowledge. On the website are videos in which he teaches pizza lovers to make signature recipes such as spaghetti al pomodoro made with whole tomatoes and shares tips for dough stretching using the traditional schiaffo technique.
Born and raised in Turin, Italy, D’Agata started working in a Napoletana pizzeria at 16, has worked in Europe, operated Turin’s Passamaneria and helped launch Cinemà pizzeria in Cuneo. He worked for the master baker and world baking champion Gianfranco Fagnola, where he learned the techniques of fermentation with sourdough. In 2012 he came to Canada where he operated Bottega pizzeria, and in 2014 with pastry chef Sandro Carpené he opened the Italian bakery and pastry Arte & Farina.
In 2016 he began working with the No 900 group as a chef and trainer after Brian Vickers, pizzaiolo and director of operations, introduced him to the business. In 2018 D’Agata took on the role of executive chef responsible for the menu, product development and new projects.
He specializes in Napoletana and Roman in teglio pizza styles and has won many accolades for his work, including second place in the Napoletana category at the international pizza expo in Las Vegas in 2019 and first at the pizza world championship Romana in teglia at the World Championship in Naples.
D’Agata is an AVPN-certified pizzaiolo since 2011 holding the title of Senior Verace Pizzaiolo. He is going for his Master certification and is head chef of the Canadian delegation of VPN. “All of our pizzerias are certified and we are the first chain to be certified,” he says. “The more people we can train and offer a job right after training, the better it is for us. For me the next level of hiring people is to have the school.”
Becoming certified means that the chef meets certain standards including using only Italian flour, olive oil, cheese, and fermenting their dough. One big dream of his is to start a certification course in VPN, which he already teaches at No. 900.
D’Agata says you can be certified as an individual, but if you want your pizzeria certified it takes more time and dedication. And you can lose that certification if standards are seen to drop. “It’s impossible to make sure things go perfectly in 29 locations. Things happen. We’re prepared and we have a dedicated team.”
Attracting job candidates in unique ways
Also on the website, a questionnaire asks potential job candidates about their favourite pizzas, what they are looking for in a job and how they would describe themselves. It’s a playful way of engaging young people and getting them excited about the product and company.
A colleague, Genevieve, came up with the idea of recording a video that follows people working in the franchise from ages 17-28. “For us this is about showing that we are able to offer you a path to a dream,” he says.
Another important way he shares this knowledge is by running an internal competition among team members to decide who will compete at Vegas Pizza Expo. They offer pizzaiolos support to create their recipe, set up a tasting station and choose three finalists.
This year Josh Della Cioppa, head pizzaiolo at the Vaudreuil location, won a trip to Las Vegas to compete alongside D’Agata and Fiodar Huminski, who is sous chef, R&D and owns three locations. Della Cioppa, a proud Italian-Canadian, competed in the traditional division.
“It’s really important for me to let them have some space for some creativity. When you work in a franchise it’s always the chef that makes the decisions. Sometimes it can be harder for them to explore the food world.”
D’Agata acknowledges that not many people see pizzaiolo as a career. “People are impatient. You need the passion to do this work. I want them to grow.”
Other benefits for employees include insurance, trips to events and the chance to gain VPN certification.
He has seen more styles become popular, including Napoletana, which exploded in last 15 years, the New York slice and Detroit-style. Roman-style is growing in popularity. No. 900 opened Roman-style locations before the pandemic.
Taking care of people and transferring knowledge are important to the chef.
“I’m lucky – I’m doing what I like to do and it’s important to me. Not everyone gets to do something that’s important to them.”
“Opening the location in France was a really nice experience because Europe is a different world,” D’Agata says. “We had to change the pizza a little bit but the menu is pretty much the same. They follow changes we make to our chain-wide menu too. The process took about eight months of preparation, including three weeks of D’Agata training the team in France, and a month of the owners and head pizzaiolo training in Canada.”
There is now demand for Morso in Paris, France, he says, excited at the prospect. Roman-style shops are “cropping up like champignons – mushrooms,” he says with a smile. “There are five or six at the moment. People need to develop the trust in the product,” he says. “That’s normal. It was the same with Napoletana – it took a while to become popular.”
“It’s really a team effort, honestly. Our boss has a strong team with the right people in the right spot. He’s like a good coach. He is good at putting people together.”
“We have a niche product that nobody can find but with good volume I can have really good prices. I can standardize those products. I can have private label on some products. That’s an advantage for us. We have our own brand with products like olives, pickled onions, apricot spread, spicy oil that are used in all our restaurants.
“We try to expand logically. I need space in the back, so we keep everything – our products – in the front and we use the same products the customers are using. Very efficient. No waste. It’s streamlined.”
That sums up No. 900 very well: focused passion.
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