Pizza-a-Casa: Doing What You Love -- Pass it On

You can teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime, the saying goes.

You can teach a man to make pizza and turn a profit, as New Yorker Mark Bello learned. Ninety-three percent of Americans eat at least one pizza per month, according to Bolla Wines. Bello knew he had a hungry demographic. He had a love of pizza, but could he pass it on?

Success may appear to come overnight, but it doesn't

After 14 years of trial and error, Mark Bello figured out an easy way to make good, thin-crust pizza at home. The original spark was time spent in Chicago, land of deep-dish pizza, which left the New Yorker yearning for tastes of home. He saw a business opportunity: Other people wanted to learn his secrets. Five years ago, he started teaching classes out of his New York City apartment and a cheese shop where he worked. This past April, he opened Pizza a Casa: Pizza Self-Sufficiency Center in New York.

"In my workshops I teach people that with the proper techniques and an understanding of ingredients, balance and proportions you can make pizza at home that is not only great, it's better than what you'll get in a 99.9 percent of pizzerias, more economical and way better for you," Bello says.

For $150 per person, students spend four hours learning to make dough, sauce, and put the whole thing together in any number of varieties with inexpensive equipment and supermarket ingredients. Students make pies ranging from margherita with fresh mozzarella, basil, and tomato sauce all the way to banana/Nutella dessert pizza in a session. While Bello never tires of eating pizza, he does warn his students about hitting the "pizza wall." In other words, you want to moderate your intake during the class. There WILL be leftovers to take home, in pizza boxes, of course.

Passing your passion to others

The business of teaching a passion to others can be very fulfilling. Many local adult education programs and companies such as the Learning Annex gather experts to spread their knowledge about gardening, cooking, computers, writing, etc. But those programs often employ instructors on a part-time basis. If you're going to take the plunge full time, Bello offers some advice:

1. Do it because you love it and that will show. If you don't love it, leave it.

2. If demand increases so it looks like you can sustain yourself, you must learn the business side.

3. There will be moments that really test a person. For Bello, it was lease negotiations and construction. But he pressed on, seeing the pizza potential ahead.

4. Pizza a Casa didn't happen because of Mark Bello alone. He had help along the way and stresses the importance of finding good people, treating them fairly, and showing appreciation for their contributions.

Translating passion to profitability isn't easy, but it can be done. It also helps to stay one step ahead and visualize growth. In the case of Mark Bello, what's to make a person come back once they learn basic pizza making? There's always sausage-making or pepper-roasting -- and more pizza.

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