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Terroni's Cosimo Pagliacolo: From Pizza Maker To Big Cheese

Photo: Terroni

General Manager of Terroni L.A. (Beverly Blvd. location), Cosimo Pagliacolo

Cosimo Pagliacolo is a pizza success story. At 17-years old (in the mid-90s), he got his start as a dishwasher/pizza maker at Terroni's flagship Queen St. West location – back when it was a narrow closet of a pizzeria – and quickly became a friendly fixture for an ever-expanding empire that now includes three locations in Toronto, and two in Los Angeles. For years, he was Queen West's little brother but he gradually moved up the ladder and, six months ago, he headed south to become the General Manager of Terroni's Beverly Boulevard location. Eater recently chatted with the soft-spoken Pagliacolo to reminisce about the early years, the weird dreams he got after making 200 pizzas a day, and why he'll never leave the Terroni family.

You've worked at the same place for such a long time.
It's very true. When I look at resumes, generally kids spend no less than a year at a job. They have a lot of different experiences but no longevity. I'm different that way, I guess.

Who taught you how to make pizza and what are some tips you've never forgotten?
A great Brazilian chef named Renato trained me. He would say: "Treat your dough like a lady; be gentle with it." On a very basic level, dough is living – it breathes oxygen and exhales CO2: Form it, shape it, then let it relax, and grow. This might sound a bit corny but it's also the way you're feeling that day that has a lot to do with how your food comes out. You have to like what you're doing. You have to take pride in what you do. Product comes from that. If you're not happy doing what you're doing, it shows in what you make. I believe that.

What are some of your fondest memories from Terroni's early years?
Many years ago, when the owner Cosimo Mammoliti and his wife Elena (newlyweds at the time) were working in the restaurant together – Cosimo made pizzas and Elena served tables, along with Shereen Arazm, who waitressed (now one of Cosimo's partner in Los Angeles) – a group of six came in and asked: "Hi, can we have a table for six?" Elena was very new to Canada, with a wonderfully thick Italian accent, and she understood the question to be: "Can we have a table for sex?" She responded quite firmly with: "WE DON'T DO THAT HERE!!!" We were in hysterics. As we were known not to allow modifications and because of Elena's faux pas, it prompted us to make: "We Don't Do That Here" T-shirts. It had a double meaning for us.

What's your favourite Terroni pizza?
In my early days of pizza making, the one pizza that I loved – that sustained me – was the Puzza Pizza: A white pizza with mozzarella, gorgonzola, mascarpone, mushrooms, and prosciutto cotto (Italian ham). At 18-years old I moved into my first apartment and, in my inexperience, I had picked an apartment that was way too expensive. It took most of my pay to pay the rent so I had little money for groceries. I ordered the Puzza for my staff meal every time. That pizza was so filling, it alone, would sustain me for a day, and it's delicious. I ate it for about a year and never got sick of it.

How many pizzas were on the menu back when you started?
There were about six or seven and the prices were very low: Five bucks for a margherita and maybe $6 or $7 for the others. Last I counted we now have, in the neighbourhood of, 24.

What's a topping that should never ever be put on a pizza?
I would say pineapple because they're not indigenous to Southern Italy. But Max – my boss down here – has this saying about pizzas: "They're like blow jobs, even a bad one is still good."

From a pizza perspective, how is L.A. different from Toronto?
The pizza thing here is not as huge as it is in Toronto. Toronto is more of a first-generation city with different cultures, especially Italians. There's more of a food culture in Toronto, in my opinion: L.A., not so much. But it's starting to change. Since Terroni opened up here six years ago, when I first came out to train the pizza guys, a lot more restaurants have opened up. (Osteria) Mozza is a really great pizza restaurant.

Have you ever thought of opening your own place?
I have, from time to time, but Terroni is a great place to work. They've always taken care of me, their staff. There's something about this place – every location. There's a great camaraderie so it'd be difficult to leave.

Terroni

1095 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON 416-925-4020

Terroni

720 Queen St W Toronto, ON M6J 1E8, Canada