As part of the Our Italians series, today we make the acquaintance of Gianni Laezza, owner of a delightful specialty foods store and delicatessen in Naples, Pan’e Muzzarell’. The shop, located in the heart of the city’s historic center, is a fine example of authenticity, respect for tradition and young, enthusiastic entrepreneurial elan. During the course of our latest Naples visit we were able to speak to Gianni in his shop, taste some of the delightful products sold there, and discuss a little about his beautiful city, the improvements it is undergoing, and plans for the future.
Casa Mia: Gianni tell us a little about yourself.
Gianni Laezza: I consider myself a humble person driven by passion. I’m respectful of my collaborators, and in my past are many travels, both for business and pleasure. Many ideas on how to structure and develop my store came from inspiration I gathered during my extended time abroad. I took that inspiration, modified it to suit my city and applied it in my growing business.
CM: What inspired you to open Pan’ e Muzzarell’?
GL: The variety of our eating tradition which is a reason of pride in the overall food scene in Italy. In addition to this, I also wanted to showcase the simplicity of our representative specialties.
Why the name (which is dialect for ‘bread and mozzarella’)?
Because the region of Campania glorifies these two unique products: our homestyle rustic bread, baked in a wood-stoked oven, is among the best and still very much bound to popular tradition. Then the mozzarella… that needs no further explanation!
Is clientele mostly composed of young people, foreign tourists or 100% Nepaolitans?
Even thosugh the historic center is visited by many foreigners, our customers are for the most part locals of every age: from the Signora looking for the rare specialty, to the younger kid looking for the perfect sandwich.
How did the public welcome your idea of selling cut up tomatoes and mozzarella served in a portable tub?
It was an instant success! The “secchiello” was an immediate hit and a valid alternative to mainstream street food. So successful that many around town have started copying our idea!
Naples is experiencing a true Renaissance. How has the city center changed over the course of the last decade?
The city was ready for a drastic change. We citizens had reached a very low tolerance threshold. Our dignity was being battered. Things had to change. Large part of this shift must also be attributed however to the administration operated by our Mayor Luigi De Magistris, who firmly believed the the first step had to be restoring love and respect in us Neapolitans in regards to our city. This delivered a change in the historic center and rekindled enthusiasm and strong entrepreneurial impetus in us residents.
We noticed great energy and many buzzing new commercial enterprises opening in the requalified center of town. Do you find Naples to have become a safer, younger, more stimulating place compared to a few years ago?
Yes, absolutely. With the centro storico’s rebirth Naples has become more active also from a business standpoint. We citizens also feel more safe, not only foreign visitors and tourists.
In your shop you sell specialty products and prime quality local foods. Over the course of time you must have built solid relationships with your suppliers. Tell us how this came about.
Firstly, I scouted my suppliers with detailed market surveys. Later, in the course of many years, I build with each and every one of my vendors and suppliers personal rapports based on mutual trust and communication. I patiently cultivated these relations and thanks to these now my shop boasts the best of the best in terms of quality and variety.
What are the products that best represent traditional Neapolitan cuisine?
Surely mozzarella di bufala DOP, traditional homestyle bread, the fabulous piennolo tomatoes and caciocavallo cheese made from the milk of the rare “podolica” cow breed.
What is your favorite dish, the one that best represents you?
I love spaghetti with Vesuvius tomatoes and black olives. The dish reminds me of many happy moments in my life.
What does Nepaolitan food have that none else does?
Obviously Mediterranean flavors, but – very much like in every day life here in Naples – this culinary art form whose origins are very humble, possesses the ability of reinventing itself every day. Neapolitan cuisine’s roots plunge deep in tradition, but it is by the same token free of constraints, and therefore can renew and change at any time. All it needs is a little bit of imagination…
What’s in store for Pan’ e Muzzarell’ in the years to come?
I’m confident in the future of my city and of my business. I foresee a series of new openings among which Miami: the realization of a dream of mine…
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, freelance food and travel writer, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her shows “ABCheese” and “Uazz’america” are broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso Channel. Her podcast “iCheese” is recorded live on the Radio Food Live network.