Businessman Michal Bay says he spent several years visiting Europe to figure out how to make, as he says, “the best pizza in the world.”
He worked in pizzerias in Naples, where he learned the art of pizza making.
If the long lines that have become typical at Alino Pizzeria, Bay’s new pizza bakery in Mooresville, are any indicator, his quest was successful.
“I think this is the best (pizza) around that we’ve had,” said customer Tracy DiVerniero, who ate at Alino on a recent weeknight. “The atmosphere is great.”
And now the company is expanding into South Carolina and Georgia. Alino announced earlier this month that it would open new restaurants in Fort Lawn, S.C., and Jefferson, Ga.
Bay, 53, who co-owns the pizzeria with his nephew, Joseph Ozbey, 24, tells a rags-to-riches story about how he arrived at his success.
Bay says he was one of nine children born to a family in a tiny village in Turkey that lived in a house made of mud. He says that, even as a child, he knew that he wanted to do something to help his family.
“I had read books set in London, it seemed foggy and mysterious, and I wanted to go there,” Bay said. So at 16, he left his family and set off for England. “I took a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant because I knew I would eat for free,” he said.
One of the regular customers eventually offered him a job selling windows, he said. “I took it, and guess I was good at it because soon I was making a year’s dishwasher salary in one week selling windows.”
After 15 years, he returned to Turkey, opening a frozen beef importing company. He was making a comfortable living, he said, until mad cow disease destroyed his business overnight.
Bay had saved enough money to carefully live off of for three years. He traveled around Europe.
In 2000, he started over again – in the United States. He started in New York City, but soon realized that it was too expensive there.
A friend selling furniture in Atlanta offered him a job and a couch to sleep on. Bay said, “He had a lot of iron, garden furniture that he couldn’t sell. I thought, ‘I can sell that’, so I bought a used, white cargo van and loaded as much garden furniture in as I could fit. I drove from Atlanta to Miami, over to Texas and up to Boston.
For two years, Bay delivered furniture and antiques, driving all over the East Coast and sleeping in his van.
He began renting space in an old textile mill, in Jefferson, Ga., where he sold furniture and area rugs. In 2007, he had saved enough money to buy the business as well as the building. This was the first Merinos Home Furnishings (“merinos” means wool in Turkish). He bought his second old, textile mill in Fort Lawn in 2008 and rehabbed it into the second Merinos.
The new Alino Pizzerias will be house in his properties in those towns.
In 2009, received a call from his real estate broker. “He told me that he found an old mill site in Mooresville, sitting on 42 acres of land. Site unseen, I offered what I could afford, which was much lower than what they were asking, but they accepted my offer.”
Today, it’s Merinos Home Furnishings Warehouse, at 500 S. Main St.
Bay opened Alino Pizzeria in the Mooresville mill in February. “Customers of the furniture store, always ask me where they can eat, and I have over 150 employees who need lunch or dinner, so I thought, ‘I should open a restaurant here.’ I chose a pizzeria because I couldn’t find true, Neapolitan pizza in this area – the kind you get in Italy.”
Bay said he was confident Alino’s would be successful, but he didn’t expect it to be this successful so soon.
The restaurant’s décor includes an open kitchen, exposed brick and long, brown picnic tables. “It’s a typical Italian pizza bakery,” Bay said. “Everybody sits together.”
Bay’s pizza is based on the techniques and ingredients he used in Naples – with a few tweaks. He imports almost all of his ingredients, including flour, canned tomatoes and sea salt, from Italy.
Alino’s menu features nine signature pizzas priced from $14 to $16.
Cook time is between 60 and 90 seconds in the ovens’ 1,000-plus degree heat, which means customers get their food quickly.
Customers praised the pizzas’ fresh ingredients and the restaurant’s family-oriented environment. “It’s very authentic,” said Joe Smith of Mooresville, who ate at the restaurant recently with his wife Sue Smith.
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: email@example.com.