It’s no surprise Dave Housman disliked his career in computer science,
considering it was a far cry from the pizzaiolo life that beckoned in
It’s no surprise Dave Housman disliked his career in computer science, considering it was a far cry from the pizzaiolo life that beckoned in the background. He began in food service as a server in his hometown of Sexsmith, Alta., and his employment in the pizza industry continued while he attended the University of Alberta to pursue a degree in computer science.
|Dave Housman won a trip to Las Vegas, $1,000 and a finalist’s spot in the International Pizza Challenge for his Dolce Vesta pizza entry that earned him the title Chef of the Year. |
“Once I was done school I got a job in my field of studies for a while but I wasn’t enjoying it so I quit,” says Housman as he begins to recount how he came to be a franchisee in a start-up enterprise called Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria in Edmonton. “I was kicking around and not really doing much of anything when a friend who was managing a pizza restaurant asked me to come and help him out.”
The friend was Shaun Good. It was Good who came across the opportunity to open a Famoso franchise and Housman climbed aboard as partner. For Housman, computer science proved no competition for an entrepreneurial adventure in pizza.
Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria focuses on delivering authentic Neapolitan pizza and the concept is unique to the Edmonton area, says founding partner Justin Lussier, who assisted Housman at the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas. Three locations have opened since 2007 in Edmonton. Housman and Good opened thier location in the well-heeled Magrath neighbourhood on Jan. 17, 2009. The founding partners (Lussier, Jason Allard and Chris Bullock) trained with the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN), an Italian organization dedicated to preserving the standards of true Neapolitan pizza, and even took Housman and Good to Naples, Italy, to see the authenticity in action.
During his trip to Italy, Housman says he saw first hand that Famoso was indeed creating the same pizza as the chefs of Naples, and also just how serious the Italians take their pizza. In this regard, Housman knew what he was facing in competing on the world stage in Vegas against many Italians. By winning our Chef of the Year contest, he was guaranteed a spot in the finals of the traditional division. He was limited to two toppings and chose a sweet Chorizo sausage and mushrooms roasted in olive oil, fresh garlic and oregano. The sauce was made with tomatoes from the Campania province of Italy, basil and salt. The dough consisted of Caputo 00 pizzeria flour mixed only with water yeast and salt. The pie earned a score of 92.7 and put him in sixth place overall.
But it was Lussier’s 2005 backpacking adventures through Italy that began the idea for the business that would eventually bring him and Housman together and finding themselves amongst the best pizzaiolos in the world.
“I was loving the pizza I was eating in southern Italy and fascinated by the regional nature of the food,” says Lussier, who had just completed university at the time. “I came back, did some research and found the VPN.”
Further research was needed to find out how to import all the ingredients needed to stay true to the VPN standards and after the first Famoso opened Housman and Good became the first franchisees in opening the Magrath location.
“It’s perfect for us because Dave and Shaun are the exact guys you want to partner with and have running the restaurant because they love the industry,” says Lussier. “Dave got a degree in computer science and left it because he loved being involved in food service. When you’re franchising you run into a lot of people who are just interested in the business end of it and the numbers.”
As an owner-operator in the restaurant five to seven days a week, Housman has a self-described perfectionist drive that helps him succeed in the business and as a pizza chef.
“I am a little obsessive-compulsive you could say,” Housman says with a chuckle. “If something is not a specific way that it should be it bothers me.”
Housman’s winning entry in our Chef of the Year contest, a spicy Cajun concoction, isn’t found on Famoso’s menu yet and he describes it as having a busier flavour than their pizzas that are permanent fixtures. The best-selling pizza at his location is the Margherita, he says, because a lot of people order it as a base and then customize it with additional toppings. The Siciliana is number two, which has fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, Italian sausage, Italian ham and baked prosciutto. The Vesuvio, which Housman says is his personal favourite on the menu, is number three in sales and features fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, cracked red chilies and spicy sopressata. Famoso’s pizzas are cooked in less than two minutes in a 900-degree wood-fired oven from Italy, and made with imported 00 Italian flour (highly refined, low gluten), imported San Marzano tomatoes and fior-di-latte. The 11-inch, hand-stretched pizzas range in price from $11 to $14.50.
Housman says the biggest challenge right now is getting people in the door for the first time because it is a new business and needs to get its name out there. Housman says they used direct mail marketing when they first opened and garnered some media coverage, which helped. One promotion Famoso runs that gets its customers interactive is called Top Chef. Customers enter their own recipe ideas in a ballot box and then they are reviewed and the best ones go on the restaurant’s feature sheet for six months. Winners also get gift certificates to bring in their friends and family to try out their creation and are invited to the restaurant to come in and cook their pizza.
“People like it. We got quite a few entries in and ended up with things like a sunny side up egg on a pizza for the last feature sheet, which creates buzz,” says Lussier. It’s an interesting way to see what people are looking for and then to also get new ideas. Plus it’s great to just involve customers in your business too so they feel like they’re part of it.”
Another successful promotion (and Housman’s idea) was to host a customer appreciation night one year after opening. Invitations for a meal on the house were handed out with a $50 value and Housman says about 80 per cent of the people invited showed up.
“We got a very good response from that,” says Housman. “People were coming up to us and shaking our hands, thanking us . . . it makes the customers feel like you do appreciate them for more than their money.”
Famoso has a Facebook page that has primarily been used to draw staff, and Lussier says a full social media strategy is in development. The brand is seeking expansion, Lussier says, with the biggest obstacle being finding the right franchisees, meaning ones with the same dedication and passion as Housman. Potential candidates need to have not only a sense of pride in authenticity and high quality but a desire to fit in with the fast casual licensed atmosphere where operators can sit and get to know their customers over a beer if they like. The locations are intimate, with 50 to 60 seats. The menu also offers salads, sandwiches, desserts and appetizers.
And the one thing Housman wants to see added to Famoso’s menu? His winning recipe, of course. •