IN August 2019, Massimo’s in Hout Bay was voted by Top 50 Pizza to be the best pizzas in Africa. Its own website is slightly humbler, claiming to be the best in Cape Town. However wide you wish to cast your net, Massimo’s pizzas are absolutely flipping amazing.
With trading during lockdown being restricted, Massimo Orione – who owns and runs the business with his wife Tracy – like many other restaurateurs, had to come up with a plan to survive. In this case, it was a range of frozen pizzas.
Now, I wouldn’t blame anyone for being slightly skeptical about this; frozen pizzas don’t have the best reputation in the world. It’s been said there’s no such thing as a bad pizza but there are definitely mediocre ones. I’m going to tell you to throw out all those preconceived notions, and embrace the Massimo’s frozen pizza.
It’s a small but not insignificant miracle.
The first one I had (note: first, very important) was the Funghi Feast: white base (garlic, butter), fior di latte mozzarella, ricotta, porcini and field mushrooms, and a sprinkling of parsley. I hope Massimo won’t be offended, but I did add some streaky bacon.
It goes straight into a 180 degree oven for about 8 to 10 minutes, on a tray or a pizza stone, and comes out crispy and utterly delicious, and exactly how a pizza at Massimo’s itself would be. Let me put it this way: I was planning to eat only half and save the rest for the next day; I ate it all in one sitting. With a glass of red wine, obviously.
The pizzas have no added preservatives, no additives, and no artificial flavouring. They are all handmade at Massimo’s in Hout Bay, and cooked in the wood-fired oven, leaving the finishing touches to you. If you need another reason to give these pizzas a try, for every one sold, R1 is donated to DARG domestic animal rescue group. At the end of August, 2020, DARG received R2322, and a further R3189 went to other charities.
I asked Massimo some questions about his frozen pizzas.
Q: During lockdown and not being able to trade, restaurants had to come up with ways to survive. Please can you tell me what made you decide to do the frozen pizzas, and how you went about it?
A: The idea came out in early May, where we were allowed to restart doing take away deliveries. It became clear that was not enough for the business to survive, and keep everyone employed, so one day we tested a few frozen pizzas and we were amazed how good they are. In a way we find them better than a normal take away as they come out of your oven and can be eaten piping hot.
We were already in contact with a great designer who was preparing the packaging for our other future venture: Massimo’s Spiriti Famosi liqueurs (maybe we will talk on another occasion about them? We are just waiting for the liquor licence) so we asked him to design our pizza boxes and the result is beautiful, it sells the pizza even before you open the box.
Q: Frozen pizzas (supermarket for example) have never been that great. How (without giving away any secrets of course) did you manage to make yours so amazing?
A: This pandemic is changing people’s habits and for some who still don’t want to go out, getting one of our frozen pizzas is the next best thing to coming to the restaurant. We’ve had a good look at what’s currently available in supermarket freezers and we sadly discovered 90% of the market is dominated by “the German made” pizzas. Nothing wrong with them when you just want a quick last minute meal, but miles away from what we offer. They are made in a factory on the other side of the world, packed with many additives and preservatives so they can be stored for months in containers. There is no secret with ours…we do them exactly with the same ingredients we use at the restaurant (eg Eureka Mills stoneground unbleached flour, Puglia Cheese fior di latte mozzarella) and with the same passion and love. Maybe that is the secret. Every frozen pizza we sell has a little sticker with the name of the person who cooked it. You won’t get that with a mass produced product.
Q: How does this new business fit in with your previous one now, especially since you can now open for sit down and sell alcohol?
A: It’s quite hard, we didn’t expect such a sudden success, so as a compromise we decided to keep the restaurant closed during lunch weekdays, and every member of staff help from 8am to 5pm to produce the frozen pizzas. It takes lot of time, not only the baking but there are many steps before and after, like folding up the boxes, applying the labels, sealing the plastic bag, closing the boxes. Evenings and weekend lunches we operate as usual and things are slowly “normalising” with all health and safety protocols in place.
Q: What are the pizzas in the range, and prices?
A: With limited space available in freezer shelves we had to really think had and we came out with four normal pizzas and two vegan, all that are popular in the restaurant: the classic Margherita; the Hot Latina with Richard Bosman’s amazing chorizo; the Bologna with the same bolognese sauce we use in our pasta and lasagna; the Funghi Feast, on a white base, with imported porcini mushrooms and ricotta cheese, this is one of the bestsellers! We also have a vegan margherita and a vegan Quattro, without cheese but very tasty with roasted garlic, pan-fried mushrooms, fresh baby spinach, pine nuts and balsamic reduction.
At the restaurant, where they can be bought any time of the day, they vary from R70 to R120.
Q: What made you decide to include vegan pizzas?
A: At the restaurant we had a dedicated vegan menu for the last five years so it was a natural evolution. Many people are eating less meat and dairy too, for environmental and animal welfare reasons.
Q: Do you have plans to expand this part of your business, by adding more different toppings or increasing output? Do you think you will eventually get bigger and make it a separate operation?
A: We have many more ideas for other pizzas that work well frozen (the first will be the Alba, with cooked Parma ham and truffle cream). We are planning a big expansion. Just one oven shared with the restaurant is not enough. We keep getting requests from people all around Western Cape and the rest of SA so it might take a while but we will be there. It is not a business easy to duplicate, pizzaioli need a long training period.
Q: The response has been great – where can people buy them?
A: The easiest way is to check here as the list keeps growing weekly.
Q: Please tell me why you are donating to DARG, and why you chose them?
A: DARG has always been one of the 10 charities we support. It was difficult to pick just one for this project, but as the pizzas might eventually go all over, we feel DARG is the right recipient as it is well known outside Hout Bay. Animals are suffering too during this pandemic, with many being abandoned. Where would Hout Bay be without it?
Q: How you have coped with the challenges over the past few months, and what your hopes are going forward?
A: During the first month of total lockdown it kept us sane cooking for charity. The important thing was not being defeated by this, but using it as a challenge to think out of the (pizza) box and find new ways to survive and thrive. We hope this will grow and we might even have to offer more employment to keep up with the demand, specially once the liquor business will also start. We have a great team and we are glad we were able to keep and pay them all during the hard times.
- Still in my freezer is a Bologna, and oh boy, I can’t wait for the Alba!