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From Naples to Hall: Meet the man who holds a small pizza chain together
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Napoli's Pizza owner Giuseppe Scotto prepares a cheese pizza Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, at his Lula restaurant, his third location in Hall County. - photo by Scott Rogers

After the dough has risen and the sauce has been made, Giuseppe Scotto builds a pizza, sometimes adding pepperoni and other toppings, always adding whole-milk mozzarella cheese.

The owner of Napoli’s Pizza with three locations across Hall County eats a slice or two every day, and it’s because of the way he grew up that he’s been able to keep his business growing.

“My mom, she was born cooking,” Scotto said through a thick Italian accent, sitting in a booth at his 2-year-old Lula location. “My mom, she's five-star. You go inside of the house when my mom comes in and it’s like, ‘“Wow, who’s cooking?’”

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Napoli's PizzA owner Giuseppe Scotto and wife Katie, with son Dominic, visit their Lula restaurant Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. The Lula location is their third restaurant in Hall County since 2002. - photo by Scott Rogers

That’s where he first fell in love with cooking. He watched his mother, Maria Di Lauro, do it in Naples, Italy, where he grew up. And Scotto still watches her cook when she comes in from Naples to visit him in Flowery Branch, where he lives and also has his flagship restaurant that opened in 2002.

It’s come full-circle for the Scotto family. When Di Lauro comes in and cooks, Scotto’s children pull up a chair next to the stove, just as he did when he was young.

“From the frying pan to their mouth,” Scotto said. “That's what mom does. I'm not kidding. And she makes all my kids make meatballs. All of them, all of them, all of them. Because my mom was raised that way and she wanted me to raise the kids that way.”

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Napoli's Pizza owner Giuseppe Scotto prepares a cheese pizza Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, at his Lula restaurant. - photo by Scott Rogers

Scotto is so busy sometimes, he’s not able to do that as much as he’d like. He’s busy running his Lula location almost by himself, while managing the Flowery Branch location and his third location in Oakwood that opened in 2011.

He’s been busy ever since he was 14, when he left Naples for Philadelphia. He went back to Naples a few years later to join the Italian army, as military service was mandatory in Italy until 2005, but he came back to the States and worked his way through restaurants and landed in Georgia, where he opened his first restaurant, Grotta Azzurra in Lawrenceville. Since the beginning, he hasn’t strayed away from what he knows so well.

“Always pizza and pasta, always,” Scotto said. “I like the pizza and pasta business, you know? I do, I do. I love it, man.”

Through all of his restaurant experience, Scotto has only worked in Italian cuisine. And over the years, working his way from a dishwasher up to opening his own restaurant in Lawrenceville, Scotto learned the tools of the trade — he never went to culinary school — all the while making it his own.

“I didn't get the recipe for the sauce from my mom,” Scotto said. “That recipe is something that I put together when I experienced all these places I worked at from Philadelphia to North Carolina to here. I put everything together. That's my knowledge.”

How to make a pizza at Napoli's

Napoli's Pizza owner Giuseppe Scotto makes a pizza at his Lula pizzeria location. Scotto, who's grown the business to three locations since 2002, grew up in Italy and said he learned a lot about cooking from his mother, who still visits and cooks for him and his family to this day.
By: Layne Saliba

That recipe, which hasn’t changed from the day Napoli's opened its doors, is made with olive oil, garlic, oregano, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper. It’s simple, but it’s exactly how Scotto wants it.

The not-so-simple part comes in the dough. Napoli’s uses beer yeast instead of baker’s yeast. The beer-yeast dough has to be made ahead of time and given about 24 hours to rise. But the extra time and preparation pays off in the final flavor and texture of the dough. Scotto said it has a little bit of a chewier bite and has a much better flavor.

Because his sauce is a specific recipe and his dough is a little different, he has to trust the cooks at each restaurant to follow the recipes precisely, which is how he said he’s been able to expand his pizza restaurant among other competitors.

In Flowery Branch, Scotto has Austin Pace, who’s been working there since he was young.

“He used to come and pick up pizza in Flowery Branch and he couldn’t even reach the counter,” Scotto said.

When Pace turned 14, he wanted a job to keep him busy after school, so Scotto let him do whatever he could find around the restaurant. He started out washing dishes and cleaning tables, but slowly worked his way up the chain and is now manager.

“For me, it’s like tying your shoes or riding a bike,” Pace, 21, said. “It’s just very simple, but comes after a lot of practice.”

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Austin Pace, manager at Napoli's Pizza in Flowery Branch, checks on a pizza in the oven on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. Napoli's has been around since 2002 and is run by a born-and-raised Italian, Giuseppe Scotto, who learned everything from his mother. - photo by Austin Steele

Pace himself is Italian, so he said of making pizza, “It’s in me.”

And it’s that kind of cooking that keeps customers like Susan Little and Victor Febles coming back — for years, in their case.

They live in the North Hall area and drive to Napoli’s in Flowery Branch as often as they can manage.

“To me, the tomato sauce has more flavor,” Little said. “It doesn't taste as tomatoey. You can just taste the different spices in it”

She usually orders cheese pizza by the slice, but sometimes gets the baked ziti. She likes the pizza sauce so much, she asks for it on the side and dips bread in it.

Febles, who lived in New York for a time, said Napoli’s stacks up to most of the pizza he had there.

“It’s got the balance of the crust and the flavor and the cheese and the sauce,” Febles said.

Customers come in daily to get everything from a slice, like Little orders, or a whole pizza, like she and Febles order to-go every time they stop in.

And Scotto’s children have grown to like his pizza just as much as Little and Febles have. Scotto said his son, Dominic, once wanted pizza while they were on a trip, so Scotto ordered a personal-pan pizza from a chain restaurant.

“(At) 5 years old, he said, ‘No, I want Daddy’s pizza,’” Scotto said. “Even the kids realize, you know. Because kids will tell you the truth … It felt good.”

It’s responses like that that keep Scotto going. His kids, his wife, Katie, and the many customers he’s come to know, remind him why he works the countless hours he does.

“Cooking is fun,” Scotto said. “You don't need to see cooking as a job. If you see cooking as a job, it's not going to work out because cooking is fun.”

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Napoli's Pizza owner Giuseppe Scotto cuts a cheese pizza Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, at his Lula restaurant on Athens Street. The Lula location is his third in Hall County. - photo by Scott Rogers
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