Italian couple brings a taste of home to Encinitas

It's no overstatement to call the newly opened Napizza eatery in Encinitas a labor of love. In fact, you could say the same for the company's last two locations as well.

Giulia Colmignoli - who co-founded the Roman-style pizzeria chain five years ago with her husband, Christopher Antinucci - gave birth to baby boys within days or weeks of opening their last two outlets in 2014 and 2015. Now she's pregnant with their third child, a daughter, who will arrive in early August.

"I would just say that she works very well under stress when she's pregnant," said Antinucci, 33.

The Solana Beach couple were born and raised in Rome where they met in grade school, then lost touch in their mid-teens. Colmignoli went to college in England and Antinucci moved to the U.S. at age 19 to study finance at the University of San Diego. When Atinucci was visiting Italy in 2004, they ran into each other and fell in love.

She moved to San Diego and they later married. In 2012 - with the help of a "pizzaiolo," or master pizza-maker, from Italy - they opened their first Napizza outlet on India Street in Little Italy.

A second location opened in 4S Ranch in July 2014, just days after they welcomed their first son, Giulio. And a third location followed in Hillcrest in June 2015, a few months before son Claudio was born.

Napizza - a Roman slang word for "slice of pizza" - has flourished because it's believed to be the only pizza company in San Diego serving authentic Roman-style "city pizza."

Roman pizza is served by the slice ("al taglio") from large rectangular pans and it has more fresh

vegetables and less cheese than American varieties. But the main difference is the low-yeast dough, which rises for 72 hours, making for a dough that's wet, and a crust that's light, crispy and filled with air bubbles.

Because of the crust's high moisture content, it takes 15 minutes to cook in a 650-degree oven (rather than the standard 3-4 minutes for bready American pizza).

Italian expatriates make up a sizable portion of Napizza customers, but for those who don't understand the pizza's unique properties, an entire wall of the 2-week-old Encinitas store is devoted to recipes and diagrams of the three-day process that creates a crust that's light and easy to digest.

Under the direction of 4-year master pizzaiolo Alessio Poli, the stores now serve up to 13 varieties of pizza every day, including a few gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. Large rectangular slices sell for $3.50 to $5.75.

Some varieties are traditional Roman classics, like the top-selling Truffle Porcini variety, made with mushrooms and truffle pate. Some are all-American, like the Pepperoni and BBQ Chicken pizzas. And a few others are a blend of both cultures, like the Bapo, an Italian white pizza with sliced potatoes and rosemary that's been "California-ized" with sliced avocados and bacon.

The restaurant also sells salads, focaccia, vegan soups and Italian desserts, plus beer and wine. All meats are hormone- and antiobiotic-free and non-GMO, the flour is organic, the eggs are cage-free and the fish is sustainably farmed.

Beginning next week, the company will introduce online ordering as well as a "take-and-bake" service. All of the restaurant's pizzas are "par-baked," meaning they're cooked to 80 percent doneness, then allowed to rest and dehydrate slightly. Once a customer orders a slice, it's crisped up in a high-temperature oven. With the new service, the par-baked slices can now be packaged for home-crisping at 450 degrees.

The Encinitas store offers free delivery, even to cellphone customers on the local beaches, via an electric bicycle with a heated delivery case on the back.

The company has grown to 70 employees, including a handful of cousins and siblings from Italy. Colmignoli, 36, said the biggest changes at Napizza in recent years haven't been in the kitchen but in the corporate culture.

Two years ago, the stores were experiencing 120 percent employee turnover each year. She said the mostly Millennial workforce wasn't motivated by money, so she and Antinucci launched their Live Culture Foundation to improve the workplace experience.

Employee turnover has since dropped to 25 percent a year, thanks to programs like employee retreats, yoga days, company-paid education programs, employee-led "fun" and "cause" committees, community outreach efforts, paid paternity leave and vacation benefits after three years.

Although Antinucci said they plan to open another Napizza location later this year, they're not planning another expansion on the home front.

"We'll definitely open more stores," Antinucci said, "but we're done having kids after this."

Opens at 10:30 a.m. daily. 615 S. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, 760.452.2340, na-pizza.com

Copyright © 2017, Pacific San Diego
60°