John Arena of Metro Pizza on how to be a Great Ambassador for the Pizza Community

May 11, 2021

[00:00:01.780] - Lloyd

Hey, it's Lloyd with perfect pizza liners and incredible bags, joined now by John Arena from Metro Pizza in Las Vegas. I know, you're really, really busy. Thanks for joining us and spending a few minutes with us.

 

[00:00:15.280] - John

Thanks for the invite. It's always great to talk to you.

 

[00:00:17.770] - Lloyd

You bet. So kind of how this video came about was I had listened to an interview of you and I had heard a question asked, which was almost exactly the same question I asked of you on one of the couple of Instagram lives that I've done with you. And, you know, no disrespect to the other interviewer. It's exactly I mean, they asked the question exactly for the same reason I did. I thought it was interesting to find something out about you, et cetera, et cetera. But I got to thinking, you know, John, Arena been in the pizza industry a long time, super respected. You're going to deflect all of the all of the plaudits. But I thought, God, is it one of those things where every time you're in an interview, people ask you the same questions, but there are questions that you think people should ask you, but they don't. And so that's where this came up. I floated the idea by you and you graciously agreed to to entertain this. So thanks for doing that.

 

[00:01:25.660] - John

You're welcome. You know, it's a great opportunity for me because a lot of times I get done with an interview and I'm like, gee, I wish they would have asked me X whatever, you know? And there are other times when they ask me the the questions that I call the usual suspects and I almost have like an automatic response. And I think back and say, now I'm giving the same response over and over again. If anybody watches more than one of these are going to be really boring. It seemed like it really can. Yeah. You know. Oh yeah. It's a great opportunity to, you know, to talk about some of the things that people don't ask that might be important to me and maybe important be important to other people. But the interviewer just doesn't think of them.

 

[00:02:01.570] - Lloyd

Right. Well, again, thank you so much. So kind of using your guidance, we're going to run through three questions today. And the first one is, who's the most underappreciated person in our industry?

 

[00:02:14.440] - John

That's an easy one for me. I have to go with Peter LaChapelle. I can't think you know, and it's not that he's underappreciated, he's appreciated, but when people talk to interview pizza makers. Yes, should be at the very top of the list. Yeah. Along with the great pizza makers. What really brought us all together? What really gave us a platform. Right. You know, in somebody like Tony Gemignani would have found a way to shine no matter what. But some of the rest of us that got recognition nationally or internationally, we got it because a pizza expo and because the way Pizza Expo developed and I was involved with Pizza Expo before Pete LaChapelle was involved with Jerry Darnell, the creator and founder of Pizza Expo, was still in charge. I was I was there by the second year. I was already interacting with him. And Jerry was a visionary and... Division didn't really come to fruition until Pete LaChapelle was at the helm.

 

[00:03:19.410] - Lloyd

Now, that's a really interesting thing. I mean, I'm kind of surprised by your answer for a second. I was like, wow. And then, you know, as I think about it more, I think you're right. It isn't that he's underappreciated. He's just kind of under covered. Right. He's sort of so low key that he doesn't get a lot of coverage

 

[00:03:38.860] - John

And he prefers it that way. You know, he'll always say it's all about that. It's all about the people in the industry. It's all about the pizza makers, the operators, the owners, the manufacturers. But he gave them so much. He gave all of us so much tremendous opportunity. And if you know Pete's background at all, he was involved in another industry in the banking industry. Yes. And he was involved in that for years. But I think that when he got involved in the pizza industry, because it's so special, he recognized that. And it's not it's much more than just a job for him. His relationship with the pizza industry is not. Well, right now. I'm doing the pizza industry and that's next year. I could be selling shoes. It's it's something completely different. It's really in his heart. And you can see that in the respect that he has for the pizza makers and the pizzeria owners and for the industry in general, it's really an act of commitment and and genuine love and appreciation for the industry. It's not just a job for him. And you can see the result.

 

[00:04:36.900] - Lloyd

Yep. No, I think we talk often about how the pizza community is just so different from other industries where people are super proprietary and protective of their information and the vibe that you get at Pizza Expo where it's a family reunion. So I'd heard an interview with Pete not too long ago, and there was some origin story stuff, which I always find fascinating. But when you think about like something like pizza expo somebody, it is the way it is because of the impact of a person or persons like that's their vision. Or there's a million little decisions along the way where it could be just an entirely different field. But, you know, when we're at Pizza Expo and we're all excited to be there, it's because of Pete.

 

[00:05:22.440] - John

Right. And he will say that he fell in love with the pizza in the street because of because of that special nature of the pizza industry. But he also helped craft that. Right. Right, right, right. Right. He doesn't give himself enough credit for that.

 

[00:05:35.220]

And people the people that have been going to expo now for for 15, 20 years, they take it for granted. Yeah, but if you were there thirty five years ago, you would know that somebody had to build that. Wow.

 

[00:05:48.690] - Lloyd

That's that's just a really great insight. I really appreciate that. It's something that was just kind of not on my radar as kind of a possible answer because he's so under appreciated in the sense of undercover. So, yeah.

 

[00:06:05.490] - John

And that's by his choice. So I guess I'm kind of forcing him out into the open and this. But we love Pete. Everybody loves Pete. And I think everybody really needs to recognize the impact that he's had and will continue to have our industry for generations.

 

[00:06:21.750] - Lloyd

Yeah. He'll just have to suffer through it. So I'm sure he will if it's OK. Well, if you'll move on to the next question, and that is, what are the biggest stumbling blocks on the path to success? I'm fascinated by this question.

 

[00:06:36.270] - John

What I'm seeing now is that one of the major stumbling blocks is that people can't distinguish between searching for likes and searching for improvement. People have become so distracted by the illusion of achievement through social media and and recognition that the recognition has become the goal. Yes. Instead of honing your craft for years and years. So I hear people talk about. They're spending so much time on on getting their faces out there and they talk about how the pizza making part of it has gotten old for them after 10 or five or 10 years, that part's gotten old. And at 10 years, you're a beginner. At 20 you're a beginner. No, no. I'm at 54 years and I feel like a beginner, you know? And I think the stumbling block is that you get this is a false notion of achievement. That's a that's attached to recognition. Yeah.

 

[00:07:40.540] - Lloyd

Yeah. No, I think that's part of kind of the sort of the how everything's changed with media and social media and and all that. And but like you say, it's kind of like a false God in that the true craftsman always seeking to improve. I like the idea of honing your craft. You know, it's like the people that just they're just doing the work every day. You see, I kind of was around the bakery industry before pizza as well. And I mean, you would see people just two o'clock in the morning every day doing their thing. Nobody there, no cameras. But they're just trying to be better every day.

 

[00:08:18.620] - John

So I think I think the the issue is really that there's nothing wrong with recognition for being recognized for your work, but you shouldn't be working to be recognized.

 

[00:08:28.480] - Lloyd

Oh, that's a great way of putting it. That's a great way of putting it. And I think it's OK to say, hey, I've come this far, but I'm not there. I'm just like, I'm not because I want to get better.

 

[00:08:39.700] - John

And the very best of us are never happy. The guys that I know that I considered to be really, truly great. Or, you know, they're never they're never satisfied and they always have that mind of a beginner. So, you know, it's that recognition gives you a false sense of of achievement and you can get it's easy to become complacent because you've got 20000 followers.

 

[00:09:06.260] - Lloyd

Right, right. Well, when you talk about the best in the industry kind of having that mindset, I see it in maybe the most candid moments where they're interacting with each other. And these are people that, you know, at least from the outside, if I was just a mainstream journalist trying to cover the pizza industry, I'd go, oh, I recognize that name or this person or whatever. And you see them like, you know, stopped in the aisle at Pizza Expo and they're excitedly talking to each other about, oh, I'm I'm doing this because of the tip that you said or whatever. I'm known for this, but I'm doing this thing way off the charts. But it's a blast and that's cool.

 

[00:09:49.010] - John

Yeah, that interaction is really special, and that's really the magic of Expo, the best part of Expo to me takes place in the isles. Yeah, yeah. Know I've attended millions of great seminars and given some seminars that I think were pretty decent. But the but the action is really in the isles. Absolutely.

 

[00:10:06.200] - Lloyd

Yeah. You know, it's it's funny, I was talking with Eric just this morning and we were talking about Expo and I've I'm a veteran of I think this will be number 20 whenever the next one is in. I typically as a vendor up typically in a booth. And, you know, that's we get some great conversations there. But every now and again, I'll look at just outside of the booth, I'll see some people and I'm just dying to get over there.

 

[00:10:30.880] - John

So there's those happy collisions that. Yes, in the aisles. That's really where the action is.

 

[00:10:36.860] - Lloyd

Yeah. Yeah. Do you have anything else on that? Or you want to move on to the next question?

 

[00:10:41.210] - John

We can move on because the next one I think is pretty important.

 

[00:10:43.940] - Lloyd
  1. And number three, why is it a great time to be a pizza maker?

 

[00:10:48.800] - John

There's more diversity in the in the ranks of pizza makers now and pizza entrepreneurs now than there have has ever been, and I come from a time starting in the in the mid 1960s when pizza makers were men and they were men that were either Italian or of Italian descent, Italian Americans. And it was a very small gene pool. And it was people that were just repetitively by rote imitating what had been done before, what I'd done before and our perspective was very narrow. Yes, and the diversification in our industry to me has been that has been what the new life force into the pizza world. And if you look at the top pizza makers now, I mean, they're always going to be the great Italian and Italian American pizza makers to Adriani, Tony Gemignani, Giovanni... Guys that are that are really great and there's so many of them, I don't want to leave anybody out and have them get offended. But if you look at the new breed. Laura Meyer, Alena Tikhova, Nicole Bean. You know, there's women, Nicole, from Last Dragon is women of color, there's men of color, there's every ethnic group that you can imagine. One of the top people, top resources in our industry is Brian Spangler. There were no Spangler's making pizza in the 90s, you know, in the world of pizza, making it especially so that diversity, that diversity in our industry. And that's a slightly different perspective from a classic Italian American upbringing, as has done wonders for our industry, because it brought in different skills, different mindset, different opportunity. And we have great, great entrepreneurs that are not Italian Americans that are doing amazing things in the business section of our industry. Great bakers, you know, people that have done done new things with with what we've done that are not looking at it the way that my generation looked at it now.

 

[00:12:58.300] - Lloyd

I think that's that's a really key insight. And I've always appreciated that you're a champion of that. You know, you're an important voice in our community. And to the extent that you welcome that, I think that's really important. I mean, it it's such such a great example that, you know, anyone else's success doesn't take away from you and that we're all better for it. I think it's great.

 

[00:13:26.200] - John

And our industry can serve as an example to other parts of of society and other aspects of of living in our world that when you deepen the bench, when you open opportunity to everyone, look what happens. Look at the great things that happen right now, a threat to diversify and to be inclusive. When the pizza industry became inclusive, it flourished. And that's a lesson for all. That's the most important thing that's happened is that we can serve as an example to the rest of the world that diversification and opportunity or equal opportunity for everyone. Gives is better for for the whole group, for the whole planet.

 

[00:14:07.670] - Lloyd

You know, and you know, John, it's it's interesting because there are other people that wherever they are along their path where they could be just starting out or established or quite well known within the industry, you know, the fact that you can take some effort to shout somebody out or just acknowledge somebody, there may be somebody that, you know, they're there 10 years in and but they recognize that they're you know, they're not a star or anywhere near what they want to be. But, you know, the kind of a pat on the back or just acknowledgment from an industry leader is just so important. And just like we've talked about, you know, with Pete LaChapelle and the Expo and kind of the whole atmosphere within the community, those things build us all stronger.

 

[00:14:57.560] - John

I mean, I like to think of somebody like Audrey Kelly is a combination of extraordinary pizza maker. One of the most gifted peacemakers I've ever seen and also a businesswoman and entrepreneur has a great heart and is very generous. It was one of the classic pizza makers and pizza pizza pizzeria owners. Fifty five years ago. Six years ago, when I was just. Having a notion of what the industry was. You know, or you know or even a Jonathan Goldsmith, who comes from a completely different background background as a as a social worker. Now, a Jewish American brings and brings that perspective, you know, from a different from a different background, different upbringing. That's been it's been amazing for us as an industry and and just as. The joy for the joy of being involved, that diversification has given us so much more insight into humanity.

 

[00:15:58.850] - Lloyd

Yeah, it's so funny talking, talking to those people, you know, and that that what you get is we all have different paths, different backgrounds, different life experiences. But when you get to talking to them about the craft, the same there's so many similarities that there's still that that youthful excitement about learning something new or getting a little bit better to to kind of the result that they want or just consistency or whatever it is. And and you see that in their eyes. And it's like, hey, we're the we're the same. I think that's fun.

 

[00:16:34.310] - John

Right? I mean, is there any other aspect of the of the food service industry where you have this kind of sharing? I've never seen it. No. The chefs that I talk to from other other disciplines outside of the pizza pizza arena are. Are shocked at what they see with us, the exchange of ideas, and when a chef reaches out to a pizza maker, the response that they get is stunning because they've lived in a world where nobody helps anybody. It's all it's all competitive and cutthroat. And then they get involved with the pizza world and they're like, oh, my God, this is a completely different thing.

 

[00:17:09.990] - Lloyd

What is wrong with you? What is wrong with you people?

 

[00:17:12.750] - John

I ask somebody a question and they actually call me back and gave me an answer.

 

[00:17:17.470] - Lloyd

They gave me they gave me their cell phone number and told them to told me to call them if I have further questions.

 

[00:17:23.380] - John

So I mean you know, being able to call for someone, that's if you're not involved in our industry, but you're able to access Tony Gemignani, that's like if you were a sandlot baseball player and you were able to call Babe Ruth, right?

 

[00:17:36.900] - Lloyd

Yeah. Crazy, right? Yeah. I mean, that's that's yeah. That's kind of the state of the industry. I mean, I, I remember the days of nobody is allowed in the back of the store and flour bag labels taped over and, you know, all that stuff, just as if that flour manufacturer was only making flour dye.

 

[00:17:57.380] - John

Right. I'm going to be the only one that uses all I don't want anybody to know that I use all tromps, right? Yes, but that's what everybody else. Yeah, that's the. Three is on your street that is using the same flour. The same tomatoes. Yes. Don't tell anybody that I'm using grindy. Yeah. You and everybody else.

 

[00:18:15.340] - Lloyd

Well, you know, but it's it's a mindset and it's like I just think it's fascinating that that's what it's developed. I really I think I'm going to raise the glass to Pete LaChapelle and send him a message to get it back to our first question to kind of wrap it up just because you're right, a lot of this doesn't happen without Pete, right?

 

[00:18:40.300] - John

Yeah. And as I said, you know, Jerry Drenelle was he was the visionary behind it. But, you know, Dreamer, you have to have a dreamer to start with. You've got to have a guy that gets in there and says, how do I make this what it can really be? And that was Pete. Yeah. Yeah.

 

[00:18:57.780] - Lloyd

Well, we're going to keep our fingers crossed for Pizza Expo for later this year.

 

[00:19:02.720] - John

It's always great to see you.

 

[00:19:04.260] - Lloyd

Wonderful. Thank you so much for your time, John. I can't. I thank you.

 

[00:19:07.770] - John

Thank you.

 

[00:19:08.700] - Lloyd

OK, take care.